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  • Writer's pictureDr. Harold Pierre

Navigating the Maze of Treatment for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy


Neuropathy is peripheral nerve damage that causes tingling, pain, and numbness, usually in the hands and feet. This side effect, called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy or CIPN, happens to many cancer patients depending on the chemotherapy treatment they are getting. CIPN makes cancer treatment much harder to handle and lowers quality of life. 

Doctor shows information about peripheral neuropathy

Doctors have tried many medicines to help relieve CIPN, but more research is needed to know what works best. A recent review looked at 17 studies testing 16 drugs. Some, like duloxetine, venlafaxine, and pregabalin, showed promise for treating CIPN pain. However most studies were small and short, without long follow-ups.

Larger thorough studies are necessary to find good solutions. Other ideas like acupuncture, physical therapy, supplements, or creams might also help CIPN. Doctors want to ease the burden of chemo for patients. Cancer treatment often can't be avoided, but its side effects don't need to be ignored. Research continues on the tough puzzle of managing peripheral neuropathy from the medicines that battle cancer. I hope this blog post can help you find some answers you can discuss with your doctor.

How Chemo Drugs Trigger Troubling Neuropathy

Chemotherapy works by killing fast-growing cancer cells. However these powerful medications can also damage healthy nerves, leading to CIPN.

Certain chemo drug classes more commonly cause neuropathy issues, including platinum-based agents like cisplatin and oxaliplatin, taxanes like paclitaxel, vinca alkaloids like vincristine, and thalidomide.

These drugs injure nerve cell DNA, disrupt cell structures, interfere with blood vessels, or cause toxic inflammation. Nerve signals from the limbs back to the brain then get disrupted, resulting in CIPN symptoms.

Patients often notice tingling, numbness, and pain in hands and feet within the first 1-3 months of chemo treatment. After 6 months, around 30% to over 65% of chemotherapy patients experience some degree of painful peripheral neuropathy depending on drug protocol.

The timing and severity of CIPN varies based on total chemo dose, combinations with other neurotoxic drugs, and patient risk factors. Genetics, smoking, diabetes, and deficiencies of nutrients like vitamin E may increase susceptibility. Managing dosage can help reduce neuropathy risk.

The Difficult Search for Effective CIPN Treatments

While the review highlighted a few potentially promising medication options for CIPN, significant obstacles remain in identifying truly effective treatments. Nearly all the studies analyzed had crucial limitations like small sample sizes and short follow-up periods.

For example, the trials demonstrating benefits of duloxetine for neuropathic pain included just over 100 patients or fewer. And patient follow-up lasted 6 weeks or less. While results may seem initially positive, long-term efficacy and safety remain uncertain without larger, longer-duration studies.

This pattern holds true across most of the medication classes explored. Gabapentin and pregabalin, for instance, had conflicting results in separate small trials. And a study on the supplement acetyl-L-carnitine found worsening of CIPN symptoms with longer-term use, despite initial improvement.

These unreliable and contradictory findings demonstrate the pressing need for more robust research on medications, alternative approaches, and combination therapies. Expanding high-quality clinical trials with hundreds of patients monitored for months would provide far greater insight on what truly helps alleviate difficult CIPN symptoms over the long haul.

Breakdown of Treatment for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

Neuropathy, nerve damage, illustration of peripheral neuropathy

Here is a summary of the 16 medications studied and the key findings for each from the article:

1. Duloxetine - This antidepressant showed consistent effectiveness in reducing CIPN pain in multiple trials. Current guidelines recommend it as a treatment option.

2. Venlafaxine - This other antidepressant drug demonstrated benefits for relieving neuropathic pain from CIPN in one study.

3. Pregabalin - Found more effective than duloxetine at pain reduction in two comparison trials, but caused more insomnia.

4. Gabapentin - Two studies had directly conflicting results on efficacy for CIPN pain, so more research is needed.  

5. Crocin - In one trial, these saffron-derived tablets improved CIPN symptoms like pain and paresthesia compared to placebo.

6. Tetrodotoxin - A neurotoxin that showed positive effects on pain and neurological CIPN scales in one small study when given subcutaneously. 

7. Acetyl-L-carnitine - An amino acid supplement that improved CIPN symptoms short-term in one study, but was found to worsen symptoms with longer-term treatment.

8. Monosialotetrahexosyl ganglioside - This complex glycosphingolipid demonstrated neurological symptom relief for peripheral neuropathy patients in a single trial.

9. Lamotrigine - This anticonvulsant medication failed to show efficacy against CIPN pain or other symptoms in a 125-patient study.

10. Nortriptyline and 11. Amitriptyline - Studies on both these tricyclic antidepressants found little to no evidence of benefits for treating CIPN.

12. Ketamine/Amitriptyline Cream - A large trial saw no significant pain reduction with this topical combination medication in CIPN patients.  

13. Baclofen/Amitriptyline/Ketamine Gel - Despite a minor trend toward sensory improvement, the research did not firmly establish that this topical gel combination relieved CIPN.

14. Topical Citrullus colocynthis Oil - The application of this traditional plant oil preparation failed to demonstrate functional or symptom benefits for peripheral neuropathy.  

15. Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin) - While one study added this supplement after duloxetine treatment, no clear conclusions can be drawn about its efficacy.


While a few promising options like duloxetine have emerged, there is still no clear panacea for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The array of drugs, supplements, and therapies trialed so far demonstrates that finding consistent relief for CIPN remains a formidable challenge. However, progress is being made.

As research methods strengthen and understanding of the underlying mechanisms deepens, better management solutions should follow. Patients dealing with the painful, lingering effects of chemotherapy side effects deserve no less. Expanding the scientific foundation regarding this all-too-common consequence of cancer treatment will go a long way toward improving quality of life during and after this grueling ordeal.

With continued rigorous study of pharmacological, holistic, physical, and nutritional treatment approaches, more effective remedies can come to light. Combination therapies should hold particular promise. It is crucial for scientists to unlock more pieces surrounding CIPN’s complex puzzle so that practical solutions for easing its burden take clearer shape. Then the long road to recovery for chemotherapy patients can become a little less daunting one step at a time.

Wang, C., Chen, S., & Jiang, W. (2022). Treatment for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: A systematic review of randomized control trials. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 13, 1080888.

About the author: 

Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience. He is certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.



This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician or another qualified medical professional. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


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