What is numbness?
Numbness is often accompanied by tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling. It can affect patients across cancer types. This partial or complete lack of sensation may develop in one or more body parts, especially the hands, feet, arms or legs.
Cancers that may lead to numbness include:
- A tumor of the cerebrum, which controls sensation and movement
- A spinal cord tumor, which may cause numbness on both sides of the body and cause coordination impairments in the arms and/or legs
- Myeloma, which may produce abnormal proteins that damage nerves and bring about numbness in the legs
- Prostate cancer, which may cause numbness in the feet and legs from tumors pressing on the spinal cord
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which may cause facial numbness, a possible sign that the cancer has spread to the brain and spinal cord
- Advanced-stage lung cancer, which may cause limb numbness if it spreads to the brain
Peripheral neuropathy is a common neurological side effect of cancer and its treatment, especially chemotherapy and other anti-cancer drugs. The condition often causes numbness, particularly in the extremities.
How likely are cancer patients to experience numbness?
Between 30 percent and 40 percent of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment develop peripheral neuropathy, which often causes numbness, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
How can integrative care help?
Several integrative therapies target extremity numbness and related complications in an effort to improve quality of life and help patients avoid treatment delays or interruptions.
Licensed chiropractic physicians may be able to reduce musculo-skeletal sources of pressure on nerves which can cause numbness. Those suffering from pain caused by peripheral neuropathy, typically concentrated in the patient’s hands and feet, may also find relief through hands-on adjustment, massage, stretching, electrical muscle stimulation, heat, ice or traction techniques. Our chiropractors at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) work closely with the patient’s oncologist to determine if and what chiropractic treatments may be appropriate and beneficial.
Oncology rehabilitation therapists use physical and occupational therapies in an effort to sensitize nerve endings by retraining them to respond normally to stimulation. These clinicians also educate patients about safety and awareness of numb body parts to help them avoid injuries while completing everyday tasks. Recommendations for adaptive equipment, such as a walker, cane or shower chair, may also help reduce patients’ fall risk if their feet are numb.
Pain management physicians may recommend over-the-counter medications for mild pain-related numbness, while more severe neuropathic pain may require prescribed painkillers and/or topical treatments. Nerve blocks or implanted pain pumps may also help address the underlying issues that cause numbness. The trained doctors who staff the pain management team at CTCA® work with other integrative oncology clinicians to develop a detailed treatment plan personalized for each patient.