Thursday 16 August 2012

Peripheral Neuropathy and Chemotherapy

Side effects from chemotherapy can often be worse than the symptoms of cancer itself - as many patients know, and as we know from our experiences with our son George. For taxane-based chemotherapy, such as Taxol, Paclitaxel and Docetaxel (which is one of the drugs that George had), one of the worst side effects is called peripheral neuropathy. This involves nerve damage, particularly in the hands and feet. It usually manifests as tingling, numbness, burning or pain, but can also involve blood pressure changes, balance problems, constipation and a range of other problems.

It can be severe, and in our case it got so bad that George ended up having to come off treatment, with disastrous results in the end. Again, this is common, and so-called 'dose limiting toxicities' mean the treatments are scaled back or stopped, even when they are showing some signs of effectiveness. Obviously, finding good ways to stop the side-effects means that patients can continue with treatments, and also their quality of life doesn't descend into misery.

Which makes the results of a recent clinical trial worth noting. This was a randomised placebo-controlled trial - which means some patients got the treatment and some got a dummy pill and then the two groups of patients were compared to see what difference the treatment made. The trial was specifically looking at peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients being treated with Paclitaxel. And the treatment being tested? Omega-3 fish oil capsules three times a day. Yep, good old fashioned fish oils rather than some fancy new drug.

The results? 70% of the fish oil patients didn't get peripheral neuropathy, will in the control group it was only 40% that didn't. Not only that, there was a clear tendency for the symptoms to be less severe in the fish oil group for those patients who did suffer some symptoms.

Given all of the other positive benefits of fish oils, this is certainly a study worth bringing to the attention of your oncologists if you're being treated with Paclitaxel or other taxane-based drug. Let's hope that the trial is replicated soon so that results are confirmed.

Anyone looking for the details should take a look at the (open access) paper reporting the result here:

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