Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, or CIPN, is a major side effect in the treatment of cancer, affecting up to 40% of cancer survivors and leading to daily difficulties and reduced quality of life.
CIPN occurs when drugs used to treat cancer cause damage to the peripheral nerves (i.e. nerves in the hands and feet, sometimes extending to the arms and legs). CIPN symptoms can vary in type and severity from person to person, and depend upon which nerves are damaged and how many nerves are affected. Symptoms often start in the longest nerves, which are in the feet and legs.
CIPN typically affects both the left and right sides of the body equally, with symptoms normally starting in the toes and fingers first and gradually spreading up the limbs.
Common symptoms of CIPN include:
- Tingling, ‘pins and needles’ or electric shock-like sensations
- Burning sensations
- Sharp or stabbing pain
- Balance problems
- Increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- Increased sensitivity to touch or pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased reflexes
These symptoms can lead to problems with completing everyday activities, such as:
- Trouble using your fingers to pick up or hold things; dropping things
- Trouble with buttoning clothes
- Tripping or stumbling while walking
CIPN is a side effect of some of the most commonly used chemotherapies, which are used to treat a range of cancer types. The nerve damage that results can limit the amount of treatment that patients can receive, and the damage done may be long-term or irreversible. Sometimes CIPN develops late in treatment or even after chemotherapy has stopped, which makes it difficult to identify and treat.
Despite its prevalence and the impact on those who experience it, there is no known effective treatment or cure for CIPN. Given that 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer, it is important that assessment is optimised, and that effective methods of preventing and treating CIPN are developed. The IN FOCUS research program is working towards the goal of advancing our understanding of CIPN, including improving assessment and treatment of this condition.