Cryotherapy, which makes use of the beneficial properties of extremely cold temperatures, could help prevent damage in the peripheral nerves of patients receiving chemotherapy, a study suggests.
Patients given frozen gloves and socks to wear for 90 minutes on one side of their body during weekly chemotherapy sessions with Taxol (paclitaxel), a common breast cancer treatment, reported significantly lower tactile deterioration, better perception of warmth, and reduced grades of nerve damage on that side.
The study, “Effects of Cryotherapy on Objective and Subjective Symptoms of Paclitaxel-Induced Neuropathy: Prospective Self-Controlled Trial,” was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy reflects damage to the peripheral nerves caused by chemotherapy. The condition can cause pain, numbness, and tingling, affect quality of life and often result in treatment delays, reduced treatment doses, or treatment discontinuation.
Comparing symptoms on both sides of the body in study participants, researchers assessed neuropathy by changes in tactile sensitivity before treatment, as well as through subjective symptoms and manual dexterity.
Of the 40 people enrolled, 36 completed the study, and those who withdrew did not do so because of cold intolerance. Researchers observed that the incidence of neuropathy was significantly lower on the intervention side, both statistically and clinically, for all measurements.
Cryotherapy was also seen to significantly delay the start of subjective neuropathy symptoms, like tactile and termosensory dysfunction.
These results suggest that cryotherapy could be an effective strategy to prevent neuropathy in patients undergoing Taxol treatment.
“If the results are confirmed, cryotherapy has the advantage of a limited side effect profile, is low-cost, and it appears to prevent components of neuropathy other than [just] neuropathic pain,” Dawn Hershman, leader of the breast cancer program at Columbia University, wrote in an accompanying editorial, referenced in a press release. “Ultimately a better understanding of the biologic mechanisms causing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy will improve our ability to effectively prevent and treat all components of this toxicity.”
Other treatments approved and recommended for neuropathy, such as Cymbalta (duloxetine). But they are reported to be of limited use for chemotherapy-induced pain and numbness, and resulting disability.