For cancer patients, undergoing successful treatment is an important milestone on the journey to recovery, but it sure isn’t the end of the story. Patients often struggle with a long list of physical and emotional side effects that persist even after treatment has concluded. And while there’s been a great body of research to support cancer treatment itself, there is a relative lack of knowledge about what happens to patients afterward.
A team of researchers from the University of Iowa decided to change this, and recently discovered a potential breakthrough in the treatment of anticancer drugs’ most common side effect: chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.
First, what is chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy?
CIPN, or chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, is a collection of painful symptoms caused by impaired nerves in our extremities — like our hands and feet — and other areas including the bladder. As harsh cancer-fighting drugs spread throughout the body, they can unintentionally harm these peripheral nerves, often giving cancer patients persistent pain and numbness that can keep them from completing daily tasks.
“Activities that are not normally painful can suddenly be painful,” Dr. Diane Hammond, lead University of Iowa researcher, told SheKnows. “People with CIPN can find the light touch of clothes or typing on a keyboard painful. Fastening small buttons on your shirt becomes a challenge. You wear gloves to grab a cold soft drink from the refrigerator because holding the cold can is painful.”
In more severe cases, patients can experience trouble breathing or paralysis. When it comes to the proper administration of the cancer treatment itself, CIPN pain can also keep patients from receiving complete doses of chemotherapy, hindering the success of the treatment in ridding the body of the cancerous cells.
As of now, there is no proven way to prevent CIPN from occurring. However, a recent study has discovered a potential breakthrough in the treatment of these symptoms — treatment that could truly give cancer patients their lives back. The solution comes through a super-version of vitamin B3 known as nicotinamide riboside.
Basically, NR helps to produce NAD+, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound that revs up your cellular metabolism, increases your cell’s energy production and improves your overall immune system.
The researchers decided to take this knowledge into action. In their study, the team administered treatments of NR to a sample of rats. The treatment increased the levels of NAD+ in their blood by over 50 percent. They soon found that this treatment prevented the painful sensory processing issues from occurring in the rats and reversed any of their pre-existing nerve pain.
This is extremely exciting news for health care professionals and patients alike; pain management and prevention are crucial components to the well-being of a patient, who might be willing to try just about anything to relieve their pain. But even though vitamin B3 is a widely available nutritional supplement, it’s not ready for clinical use just yet.
“While our data supports the idea that NR could be potentially used as new strategy to prevent or mitigate CIPN in cancer patients, it needs to be affirmed by rigorous clinical trials in large numbers of patients,” Hammond said. “We do not endorse readers placing themselves on this regimen.”
Even though it’ll take a bit more time to get this treatment on the market, this promising research serves as a glimmer of hope for not only CIPN sufferers, but diabetics, burn victims and others facing nerve injuries as well. Ideally, this finding will drive further clinical studies regarding this treatment and ultimately revolutionize the future of pain management.