Diagnosing peripheral neuropathy
If you are having chemotherapy that has a high risk of causing nerve damage, your treatment team will monitor you closely for early signs of peripheral neuropathy. In other cases, peripheral neuropathy may be diagnosed after you report symptoms to your cancer specialist or general practitioner (GP).
If your doctor suspects that you have peripheral neuropathy, they will check how the symptoms affect your daily life and may ask you to complete a symptom checklist.
The doctor may also check your:
- awareness of where your body is – you close your eyes and answer questions about the position of parts of your body
- reflexes – your ankles, knees and wrists are tapped with a small hammer to check their automatic movement
- balance and coordination – you may be asked to walk in a straight line or balance on one leg
- blood pressure – your blood pressure is measured when you are lying down and standing up to see if there is a difference.
In some cases, your cancer specialist or GP may refer you to a neurologist, a specialist doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases of the nervous system. They may arrange special tests known as nerve conduction studies, which check how many cells are working and how quickly they send electrical signals along to the next cells.
Based on your symptoms and test results, your doctors may give the peripheral neuropathy a grade. Different grading systems are used in Australia, but a common one has grades 1 to 3, with grade 3 being the most severe and needing urgent attention.
Dr Susanna Park, IN FOCUS research program and Senior Lecturer, Brain and Mind Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Katrina Dick, Consumer; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Phil Mendoza-Jones, Consumer; Jodie Nixon, Clinical Team Leader, Occupational Therapy, Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Rachel Tunney, Consumer; Jane Turner, Senior Exercise Physiologist, Sydney Cancer Survivorship Centre, Concord Hospital, NSW; Dr Shirley Wong, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Sunshine Hospital, Western Health, VIC.
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