Neuropathy and metastatic breast cancer
Neuropathy is the medical term used to describe pain or discomfort caused by damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that control movement and sensations in the arms and legs. It is a possible side effect of some treatments for metastatic breast cancer.
Because of ongoing treatment, you may be at higher risk for developing neuropathy than someone with early-stage disease. Your risk of this side effect increases with higher doses of medicine, and with longer-term treatment.
This page contains information on neuropathy unique to metastatic breast cancer. Get more general information about neuropathy here.
If you notice signs of neuropathy, it’s important to talk with your providers. They should try to find out what may be causing the symptoms. Nerve pain can also be due to surgery or radiation used in metastatic disease, or from tumors pressing on nerves.
If the neuropathy is caused by a specific medicine, your doctor may decide to switch you to a different medicine, use smaller doses, or change the timing of your treatments. You can also take some practical steps. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicines used to treat neuropathy from diabetes, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica).
If your neuropathy symptoms are severe, you and your doctor may decide to take a break from treatment or to switch to a different medicine.
It’s possible the medicine could work as well against the breast cancer at a lower dose or on a less frequent schedule. Talk with your providers about how they will monitor the impact of any changes to your treatment.
Sometimes people don’t want to report side effects because they are worried that if the dose or timing of the medicine changes, the treatment will not be as effective. But most treatments have recommendations built in to lower the dose or change the timing of the medicine if symptoms are of concern. Studies show that even if the dose is lowered or changed, the treatment will still work as well against the cancer. If the dose or change would not be effective, your healthcare providers would change you to a different treatment.
Although one goal of your treatment is to keep the cancer under control for as long as possible, a second, equally important goal is to allow you to live a good life. Remember, your needs are an important part of your treatment plan. Open communication with your providers is very important. You and your providers will decide together whether continuing with a certain treatment is right for you.