University of Wisconsin

The current management of cancer results in the use of anti-cancer medicines, generally chemotherapy. These medications can cause a whole host of problems whether they be immediate side effects or more long term side effects. One of the problems that we're seeing a lot more of in the current era of anti-cancer drugs is nerve damage caused by these agents. This leads people to have either painful conditions in their hands or their feet, or they can have numbness or tingling that prohibits them from doing the kinds of activities that they're accustomed to such as buttoning the buttons of a shirt.

Some of the things that we're working on to try and improve the care of patients with painful neuropathy is first and foremost to try and understand the condition better. We're working in a collaborative group with multiple other centers across the country to try and develop a better set of tests to quantify the kind of damage that occurs. This will allow us to study it better.

We're also beginning to work on the use of some medications to try and prevent the damage that occurs when chemotherapy is given. This information is already beginning to help us in the clinical setting. Here at the university, we are in the development phase of several different trials looking at either new or herbal or older medications that we are quite hopeful will help to minimize this damage caused by chemotherapy agents.

So in a best case scenario as we look forward five, 10, 15, 20 years, we will have developed either a medication or a cocktail of medications that patients would take at the time they're receiving chemotherapy -- not forever, but around the time they're receiving the chemotherapy that will help protect the nerves, to shield them from the chemotherapy in a way so that the damage doesn't occur. We anticipate that the anti-cancer drugs will still be active against the cancer, but we will find some way of protecting the nerves from the chemotherapy.

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