This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on April 21, 2022.

How does numbness affect cancer patients?

Numbness is often accompanied by tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling. It may 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, 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?

Peripheral neuropathy affects around 10 percent to 20 percent of people with cancer, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

How may integrative care help?

Several supportive care therapies target extremity numbness and related complications to improve quality of life and help patients avoid treatment delays or interruptions.

The supportive care services that may be recommended include:

Oncology rehabilitation

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.

Learn more about oncology rehabilitation

Pain management

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 supportive care clinicians to develop a detailed treatment plan personalized for each patient.

Learn more about pain management

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