Taxol Increases Risk of Chronic Neuropathic Pain in Breast Cancer

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Women with breast cancer who receive the chemotherapy drug Taxol (paclitaxel) have a significantly increased risk of developing chronic neuropathic pain. The new report comes from researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Chronic neuropathic pain is a complex condition in which the nerve fibers may be damaged, dysfunctional, or injured. Because these nerve fibers are abnormal, they send incorrect pain signals to various parts of the body. One type of chronic neuropathic pain is phantom limb syndrome; another type can occur after chemotherapy.

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Few studies have explored the extent to which breast cancer survivors who experience chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) go on to develop chronic neuropathic pain. CIPN involves damage to the peripheral nervous system (the system that transmits information between the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body) caused by some chemotherapy agents. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and burning and/or stabbing pain in the hands and feet.

To determine the degree to which patients who experience CIPN later develop chronic neuropathic pain, researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center surveyed 240 breast cancer patients who had participated in clinical trials from 1994 to 2001 in which Taxol was administered. The researchers found that breast cancer patients who had experienced CIPN during treatment with Taxol were three times more likely to develop chronic neuropathic pain.

About 60 percent of women who receive Taxol experience CIPN, and they are at increased risk of developing chronic neuropathic pain. Therefore women who are treated with Taxol should make sure they are monitored regularly for neuropathy. If worsening neuropathy is apparent, breast cancer patients and their physicians need to discuss the risks and benefits of continuing treatment with Taxol.

SOURCE:
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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