Chemotherapy is notorious for causing a host of unpleasant side effects, from short-lived ones like nausea, fatigue, and hair loss, to long-term side effects like lymphedema or neutropenia. Anti-nausea meds can help with tummy troubles, sucking on candies or frozen treats can help with dry mouth, and puzzles can help with the dreaded chemo brain. And getting enough sleep helps just about everything.
But long-term and permanent side effects are trickier. One side effect not often talked about is chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which is damage to the nerves in one or more areas of the body away from the spine and brain.
One way to help prevent the condition is by using cryotherapy, or cold therapy, which uses low temperatures to help treat or alleviate medical problems.
Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy typically starts in the fingers and toes and then moves inward. It can range from mild discomfort like tingling and numbness, to intense pain or burning. It can start at any time during chemo treatments, and will often worsen as treatment goes on.
Because peripheral nerves also control the bladder and bowel, it can also cause symptoms like constipation, trouble swallowing, trouble urinating, and more.
Neuropathy is a permanent condition, so prevention is key. Researchers are looking at several different areas, and have found some success in using vitamin E, calcium and magnesium, certain anti-seizure and anti-anxiety medications, and dietary supplements, according to the American Cancer Society.
Cryotherapy could also help prevent it, if used on the hands and feet. Lee Health in south Florida is utilizing special mitts and stockings to do just that.
Similar to how a cold cap works to prevent hair loss, these frozen mitts and slippers reduce blood flow to the hands and feet so that the chemo doesn’t have as strong of an effect.
The mitts and stockings are kept in the freezer until about 15 minutes before treatment begins. They are then fitted over a patient’s hands and feet, and left on for the duration of the treatment as well as for 15 minutes after the treatment ends. They are then removed.
Cryotherapy can’t reverse neuropathy if you already have it, but it can help prevent it from beginning or getting worse.
But what about the pain of the frozen treatment itself? Does that hurt?
Claudette Kamsch, a patient at Lee Health’s Regional Cancer Center, says it isn’t bad. “It felt cold right away,” she says in the video below. “I think I have a good pain tolerance, so I wouldn’t say it was painful, just uncomfortable.”
Do you think you’d want to give cryotherapy a try?
Watch the video to learn more.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.