Neurophysiological, nerve imaging and other techniques to assess chemotherapy-induced peripheral neurotoxicity in the clinical and research settings

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2019 Dec;90(12):1361-1369. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2019-320969. Epub 2019 Jun 29.


Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neurotoxicity (CIPN) is a common dose-limiting side effect of several anticancer medications. CIPN may involve multiple areas of the peripheral nervous system from the autonomic and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) to the axon and any peripheral nerve fibre type. Large diameter sensory myelinated (Aβ) fibres are more frequently involved, but motor, small myelinated (Aδ), unmyelinated (C) or autonomic fibres may also be affected. Here, we review the current evidence on techniques for the CIPN assessment in the clinical and experimental settings. Nerve conduction studies (NCS) may be used at the subclinical and early CIPN stage, to assess the extent of large nerve fibre damage and to monitor long-term outcomes, with the sural or dorsal sural nerve as the most informative. The quantitative sensory neurological examination provides valuable data alongside NCS. Quantitative sensory testing and nerve excitability studies add information regarding pathophysiology. Nerve MRI and ultrasound may provide information on enlarged nerve, increased nerve signal intensity and DRG or spinal cord changes. Skin biopsy, corneal confocal microscopy, laser-evoked potentials, contact heat-related potentials and microneurography may reveal the extent of damage to small unmyelinated nerve fibres that go undetected by NCS. The information on the role of these latter techniques is preliminary. Hence, the use of multimodal testing is recommended as the optimal CIPN assessment strategy, employing objective NCS and other specialised techniques together with subjective patient-reported outcome measures.

Keywords: assessment; chemotherapy; nerve imaging; neurophysiology; neurotoxicity; peripheral neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Research


  • Antineoplastic Agents