Peripheral neuropathy refers to symptoms arising from damage to peripheral nerves. These nerves carry sensation, control movements of the arms and legs, and control the bladder and bowel. Chemotherapy and other drugs used to treat cancer can cause peripheral neuropathy. This is termed chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (or CIPN).
Results from a pilot study evaluating two treatment schedules of a standardized Swedish massage technique to treat CIPN showed that both massage two and three times per week could reduce CIPN-related symptoms. The results of the pilot study supported the premise that patients who received massages had sustained improvement in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy up to 6 weeks after treatment completion, regardless of massage treatment site. Even patients with lower-extremity chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy who received massage to unaffected sites of the head, neck, and shoulders experienced significant symptom relief, the study authors reported.
Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause neuropathy. These include: platinum drugs, such as oxaliplatin; taxanes, such as docetaxel; vinca alkaloids, such as vincristine; and myeloma treatments, such as bortezomib. Other chemotherapy drugs can also cause neuropathy. The risk of developing CIPN is higher with higher doses, multiple courses, and combination chemotherapy. Patients are more likely to develop CIPN if they are older or have diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, or preexisting peripheral neuropathy.
According to Clinical Oncology News, Charles Loprinzi, MD, the Regis Professor of Breast Cancer Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said currently available data do not support a clinical practice recommendation of therapeutic massage for CIPN at this time.
“Massages can feel good, and there does not appear any good reason to recommend against a massage in a patient with prominent CIPN,” said Dr. Loprinzi. “We need to await further phase 3 trial data.” If the results are positive, he said, massage “should be a welcome [therapeutic] approach.”
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