Pinpointing Solutions for Neuropathy

By Sara Bondell - September 12, 2019

For many cancer patients, neuropathy can affect quality of life. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy that results from damage to nerves, and can cause weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet.

It’s something Dianne Winslow knows well. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy last year, she had debilitating neuropathy pain. “To tell you the truth, if I was sitting on the couch, it would take me at least 20 minutes to get up because I couldn’t feel my feet,” she said.

Winslow was using a cane and a scooter to get around, and says her hands were so weak she struggled to pop the top on a soda can. “After a while, you start to wonder why you’re even here if you can’t do simple things like that,” she said.

Dr. Hye Sook Chon, gynecologic oncologist.

Dr. Hye Sook Chon, a gynecologic oncologist, says many of her patients suffer from neuropathy. “As treatment advances, patients are living longer now and they want a better quality of life,” said Chon. “We are looking for all possible options to improve that quality of life for our patients.”

One of those options could be acupuncture, a treatment that involves the insertion of very thin, sterilized needles into specific points of the body to promote the healing process by correcting the flow of your body’s circulation. Chon is working with Moffitt Cancer Center acupuncturist Dr. Liem Quang Le on a pilot study to see if acupuncture helps with neuropathy pain in gynecologic cancer patients who have completed chemotherapy treatment.

During the study, Le will give three identical acupuncture treatments to six to 12 patients. The patients will then undergo nerve examinations to produce qualitative data that can detect the actual benefit of the treatment, something that has been hard to prove in the past.

“There isn’t much money to study acupuncture, and there is not one mechanism behind why acupuncture works,” said Le. “The basis of our medicine is tailored to the patient.”

Most of the success of acupuncture has been measured anecdotally. “The first things I hear from patients is that they can feel their feet again, sleep better and walk without using assistance from a cane,” said Le. “That it has helped with their overall physical and mental recovery.”

Dr. Liem Quang Le, acupuncturist.

While acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone, it worked for Winslow. She says she’s put her cane away and doesn’t have to take as much medication to combat the pain and numbness.

Le and Chon hope the pilot study yields similar results, and that they can prove that acupuncture could be a good alternative option for patients struggling with neuropathy.

“It’s not looking at if acupuncture is better than other treatments, but about adding more options for patients,” said Chon. “Hopefully we can eventually expand this into a larger study looking at quality of life for our patients with all types of cancers.”

To be eligible to participate in the study, women must have completed chemotherapy treatment for a gynecologic cancer and cannot be taking medication for neuropathy. For questions, call 813-745-2948.

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