Key questions about peripheral neuropathy

Learn the answers to these key questions about peripheral neuropathy:


Listen to our podcast on Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


What causes this nerve damage?

Some types of chemotherapy that are used to treat cancer can damage peripheral nerves. If this side effect occurs, you may hear it called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Sometimes, other cancer treatments and the cancer itself can cause peripheral neuropathy.

Possible cancer-related causes of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • certain chemotherapy drugs, particularly taxanes (e.g. docetaxel, paclitaxel), platinum drugs (e.g. carboplatin, cisplatin, oxaliplatin) and vinca alkaloids (e.g. vincristine)
  • some other cancer drugs, such as thalidomide, bortezomib and brentuximab vedotin
  • some types of cancer, especially lung cancer, myeloma and lymphoma
  • tumours pressing on nerves
  • bones breaking down and causing swelling that presses on nerves
  • surgery or radiation therapy damaging nerves.

It’s not just cancer that causes peripheral neuropathy. Other factors that may damage nerves include diabetes, shingles, heavy use of alcohol and other drugs, and a lack of certain vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin B). These factors may also increase your risk of having peripheral neuropathy after a cancer diagnosis. Smoking is another factor that can increase the risk.


How common is peripheral neuropathy after chemotherapy?

The main cause of peripheral neuropathy in people affected by cancer is treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs. For these types of chemotherapy, about 7 out of 10 people will experience some symptoms one month after treatment, and 3 out of 10 people will still have symptoms six months after treatment. The risk differs between different chemotherapy drugs.


Will it get better?

Some types of chemotherapy cause short (acute) episodes of peripheral neuropathy during or shortly after the cancer treatment session. These episodes tend to last a few days.

For other types of chemotherapy, peripheral neuropathy may be longer-lasting (chronic). It can start during treatment and is more likely to occur the more treatment cycles you have had. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy can develop or get worse over time, even after treatment has finished.

After the end of cancer treatment, peripheral neuropathy symptoms may begin to improve over 6–12 months.

In some people, symptoms are permanent and may be severe. This is more likely if you have had intensive treatment, such as high-dose chemotherapy, or if you have diabetes or other risk factors for peripheral neuropathy.


Can it be prevented?

So far, no treatment has been proven to prevent peripheral neuropathy. However, if you start having symptoms during chemotherapy treatment, your doctor may reduce the doses of chemotherapy drugs or give them to you further apart. This adjustment sometimes allows the nerves to recover and prevents permanent damage.

In some cases, you may need to stop having a particular chemotherapy drug. You can talk to your doctor about how they will balance the risk of changing the chemotherapy plan against the risk of the nerve damage becoming permanent.

Researchers are studying whether wearing ice mitts and ice booties during chemotherapy treatment could help prevent the cell damage that causes peripheral neuropathy. However, there is not yet enough evidence that this works. Talk to your treatment team for more information.

Although there is no way to prevent peripheral neuropathy developing, you may be able to reduce your risk. If you have diabetes, it will be important to make sure the diabetes is well managed throughout your cancer treatment. Limiting how much alcohol you drink and not smoking may also lower the risk.


Click on the icon below to download a PDF fact sheet on peripheral neuropathy


    Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy

  • 131 KB

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in January 2020
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Life after cancer treatment
Programs and support for people who have finished treatment

Cancer Council Online Community
A community forum – a safe place to share stories, get tips and connect with people who understand

Cancer information

Chemotherapy
Learn about this common cancer treatment and managing its side effects

Staying healthy after treatment
Lifestyle changes that can help keep you in good health

TOP BACK TO TOP