Photo of neuron courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Renjith Krishnan
Help For Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)
As a breast cancer coach, one of the things I hear all too frequently is that people who undergo chemotherapy have terrible troubles with peripheral neuropathy, termed CIPN. For some, it’s a real problem, with long-lasting effects on nerves that sometimes never goes away. This article is dedicated to all who are undergoing chemotherapy right now, especially Taxol, with some tips and help to minimize the damage these drugs can do to your nerves.
What Is Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)?
CIPN manifests in different ways for different people. Some complain of a burning pain in their hands and/or feet, some suffer from quite the opposite problem, numbness in hands or feet, making them feel clumsy and accident-prone. One of my subscribers recently told me she had it so bad it nearly drove her crazy – she had all the symptoms, burning AND stabbing pain, as well as numbness in spots.
CIPN is caused by the chemotherapy drugs given to you to combat your cancer, and often the combination of drugs you receive dictates how moderate or severe your symptoms can be.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – chemotherapy is HELL on your nervous system. While I didn’t have CIPN – and I believe that I didn’t because of several alternative therapies I was doing in combination with the chemotherapy – I did suffer from fragile nerves after I finished chemotherapy, for quite some time. I found that just sitting and having an animated discussion with friends would leave me literally trembling, which felt quite bizarre.
While science hasn’t quite figured out exactly what causes CIPN, one proposed theory is that the toxicity of various chemo drugs damages the myelin sheath – the protective covering around nerves.
There Are Things You Can Do To Combat CIPN!
One Chinese medicine doctor working at Johns Hopkins Integrative Cancer Center said via a webinar earlier this year that having acupuncture sessions, which must begin at the inception of chemotherapy to have the most effectiveness, was proving to be quite helpful for CIPN.
I loved the fact that the article included meditation and guided imagery (both of which I offer cancer patients through my Change Your Life Meditation Course), it discussed the benefits of massage therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, Reiki, yoga, topical therapies, as well as a host of supplements that are known to help, such as glutamine.
This is a fantastic resource for us, many thanks to Elyn Jacobs for sharing it, and to Dr Brian D Lawenda, the author of the article.
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While acupuncture has been around for millennia, the form of acupuncture practiced today is mainly based on a standardized system which evolved in China around 50 years ago. I do recommend acupuncture for people going through cancer treatments and here is why.
How Acupuncture Works – the Simple Explanation
Acupuncture treatment involves the stimulation of defined points on the body using tiny, ultra-thin needles (or sometimes electricity). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”), the surface of the human body and its internal organs are thought to be connected by meridians through which “qi” (pronounced “chee”), or energy, flows.
In TCM, when the flow of qi is blocked, it is thought that pain and disease soon follow. Acupuncture is a complex subject but primarily acupuncture works by inserting the special ultra-thin needles into the specific points on the surface of the body (“acupoints”) along the meridians where qi is blocked, thus restoring the flow of qi.
Acupuncture Studies Show Its Effectiveness for Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Acupuncture has been one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine. Especially exciting are some of the studies coming in that show its usefulness for breast cancer patients.
Nausea: Several studies have proven that acupuncture is quite effective in controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and post-surgical nausea.
Hot Flashes: In another study, it was demonstrated that acupuncture is helpful for relieving post-menopausal hot flashes.
Hormone Inhibiting Drugs – Joint Pain: Many breast cancer survivors are treated with drugs known as aromatase inhibitors to help prevent recurrence, but a common side effect of these drugs is joint pain and stiffness. Several studies have found that acupuncture is quite effective in reducing these side effects, thereby allowing the drug regimen to be continued.
Neuropathy: Acupuncture can reduce the nerve pain, numbness and tingling resulting from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). This disorder can be extremely frustrating to those who suffer from it and knowing that acupuncture – properly administered – can help is huge.
Lymphedema: Several studies have indicated that lymphedema resulting from removal of lymph nodes can be assisted by acupuncture.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
I often get asked if acupuncture hurts. I have to say (for the most part) NO, especially not when the needles are inserted. You can feel it, of course, but it’s not uncomfortable. Once in awhile, one of the points might ache a little when the needle is first inserted, especially if the qi is particularly blocked, but that eases off quickly usually.
I went to a Chinese Medicine doctor during the entire 6 months of my chemotherapy treatment – she gave me herbs that helped strengthen my immune system, and I often got acupuncture to help with energy levels. Having an acupuncture treatment is ultra-relaxing, you’re generally laying in a comfortable position for about 45 minutes and falling asleep is quite common. It’s a nice experience, nothing to fear.
Acupuncture treatments are generally affordable and are often covered by health insurance policies.
For a good look at all of the most recent research on acupuncture and breast cancer, click this link:
Effect of Acupuncture on Aromatase Inhibitor-induced Arthralgia in Patients with Breast Cancer: a Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28384564
Electrothermal Acupuncture in the Prevention and Treatment of Chemotherapy-induced Nausea and Vomiting: a Randomized Controlled Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29231584
The Effect of Acupuncture on Chemotherapy-associated Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Gastric Cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28270726
Management of Menopause Symptoms with Acupuncture: An Umbrella Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29298078
Treatment of Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Integrative Oncology: A Survey of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Practitioners – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28661695
Acupuncture and Reflexology for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Breast Cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5759933/
Treatment of Lymphedema with Saam Acupuncture in Patients with Breast Cancer: A Pilot Study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491154/
Effects of Warm Acupuncture on Breast Cancer–related Chronic Lymphedema: a Randomized Controlled Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754066/
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.