Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy

J Peripher Nerv Syst. 2008 Mar;13(1):27-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-8027.2008.00156.x.


Neurotoxic side effects of cancer therapy are second in frequency to hematological toxicity. Unlike hematological side effects that can be treated with hematopoietic growth factors, neuropathies cannot be treated and protective treatment strategies have not been effective. For the neurologist, the diagnosis of a toxic neuropathy is primarily based on the case history, the clinical and electrophysiological findings, and knowledge of the pattern of neuropathy associated with specific agents. In most cases, toxic neuropathies are length-dependent, sensory, or sensorimotor neuropathies often associated with pain. The platinum compounds are unique in producing a sensory ganglionopathy. Neurotoxicity is usually dependent on cumulative dose. Severity of neuropathy increases with duration of treatment and progression stops once drug treatment is completed. The platinum compounds are an exception where sensory loss may progress for several months after cessation of treatment ("coasting"). As more effective multiple drug combinations are used, patients will be treated with several neurotoxic drugs. Synergistic neurotoxicity has not been extensively investigated. Pre-existent neuropathy may influence the development of a toxic neuropathy. Underlying inherited or inflammatory neuropathies may predispose patients to developing very severe toxic neuropathies. Other factors such as focal radiotherapy or intrathecal administration may enhance neurotoxicity. The neurologist managing the cancer patient who develops neuropathy must answer a series of important questions as follows: (1) Are the symptoms due to peripheral neuropathy? (2) Is the neuropathy due to the underlying disease or the treatment? (3) Should treatment be modified or stopped because of the neuropathy? (4) What is the best supportive care in terms of pain management or physical therapy for each patient? Prevention of toxic neuropathies is most important. In patients with neuropathy, restorative approaches have not been well established. Symptomatic and other management are necessary to maintain and improve quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Platinum Compounds / adverse effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Platinum Compounds