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Peripheral neuropathy| (also called neuropathy) is a term used to describe damage to nerves that carry messages between the brain, the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
Nerve damage can cause symptoms such as pins and needles, numbness, weakness, or pain in the hands and feet. For a few people this may lead to problems with balance and walking.
Treatment with the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin| is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy in people who’ve had treatment for bowel cancer. After treatment is over, most people find their symptoms gradually improve as the nerves slowly recover. This usually takes several months. But for some people the nerves don’t completely recover and some nerve damage is long-term.
Despite this, many people find that their symptoms become less troublesome over time as they adapt and find ways of coping with the changes.
You might find it useful to read our more detailed information about peripheral neuropathy|.
Nerve pain can be treated in different ways. Some drugs alter nerve impulses and so help to relieve nerve pain. Drugs that can do this include: some antidepressants, anticonvulsants (drugs used to treat epilepsy) and some heart drugs. Drugs such as morphine can also sometimes be helpful.
If your pain is difficult to treat, you can ask for a referral to a pain clinic where you can get expert help from specialist doctors and nurses.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses pads, put onto the skin, that give off small electrical pulses to stimulate nerves close to the pain. This may block pain messages sent from the nerves to the brain and is unlikely to cause side effects.
Acupuncture uses very fine needles that are placed through the skin at particular points. It isn’t clear exactly how this works, but it may help to block pain messages from being sent to the brain. Some hospitals and GP surgeries offer acupuncture on the NHS. You can read more in our section about cancer and complementary therapies|.
A physiotherapist will be able to offer treatment and advice for problems with balance or walking.
If you’re having difficulty carrying out daily tasks, you can ask to be referred to an occupational therapist. They can assess your needs and recommend aids and equipment to help you.
If your symptoms continue for more than six months and cause you difficulty in walking or carrying out daily activities, you may be entitled to financial help. You can contact our cancer support specialists| for more information.
If your hands and/or feet are affected it’s important to protect them as much as possible. If your balance, coordination or walking is affected, it’s important to reduce your risk of accidents and falls.
Here are some general tips:
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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