Researchers have discovered a simple and inexpensive way to reduce neuropathy in hands and feet due to chemotherapy—exercise.
Investigators for the study, which included more than 300 cancer patients, directly compared the neuropathic symptoms in non-exercisers to the pain among patients who took part in a specialized six-week walking routine with gentle, resistance-band training at home.
The exercisers reported significantly fewer symptoms of neuropathy—which includes shooting or burning pain, tingling, numbness, and sensitivity to cold—and the effects of exercise seemed to be most beneficial for older patients, says lead author Ian Kleckner, a biophysicist and research assistant professor in the University of Rochester Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Cancer Control and Survivorship program.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause neuropathy, but 60 percent of people with breast cancer and other solid tumors who receive taxanes, vinca alkaloids, and platinum-based chemotherapies will likely suffer this type of side effect, Kleckner says. Neuropathy is more commonly associated with diabetes or nerve damage. No FDA-approved drugs are available to prevent or treat chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, he adds.
A previous randomized, controlled study of 619 patients showed that Wilmot’s EXCAP (exercise for Cancer Patients) program reduced chronic inflammation and cognitive impairment among people receiving chemotherapy. Kleckner’s study involved a subset of patients from that trial, which is the largest phase 3 confirmatory exercise study ever conducted among cancer patients during chemotherapy.
“Exercise is like a sledgehammer because it affects so many biological and psycho-social pathways at the same time—brain circuitry, inflammation, our social interactions—whereas drugs usually have a specific target,” says Kleckner. “Our next study is being designed to find out how exercise works, how the body reacts to exercise during cancer treatment, and how exercise affects the brain.”
The National Cancer Institute and coauthor Karen Mustian’s PEAK lab supported the work. It will be presented this weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois.