Endorsed by the European Oncology Nursing Society

Why do I feel numbness and tingling?

Why do I feel numbness and tingling? image

If you have cancer you may feel numbness or sensitivity in your feet and hands. The medical term for this is “peripheral neuropathy”. It may be caused by:

  • The drug treatment you are receiving1,2
  • The cancer itself, e.g. if a tumour is pressing on a nerve1
  • Nerve damage caused by surgery or radiotherapy1,2

 You may experience some of the following:1

  • Numbness, sensitivity, and occasionally pain, particularly in your hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness, which makes it hard to walk or climb stairs
  • Problems with balance, causing you to stumble or trip
  • Reduced sensation in your fingertips, making it difficult to fasten buttons or tie shoelaces

The earlier peripheral neuropathy is detected, the better, so it is important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms. If your symptoms are very bad or getting worse, your doctor may decide to alter your treatment.1,2

To help ease discomfort and cope with peripheral neuropathy, try the following:2

  • Keep your hands and feet warm
  • Keep your skin moisturised
  • Take gentle exercise, such as walking
  • Wear well-fitting shoes
  • Be extra careful in the kitchen as you may not be able to feel how hot pans or water are
  • Consider asking for counselling; this may help you cope with your feelings and emotions resulting from nerve impairments

If your neuropathy is causing you pain, your doctor may prescribe medicine or recommend complementary therapies such as massage or acupuncture to help manage your discomfort.2

Following treatment, most patients find that their symptoms improve with time, as their nerves recover, though this process can take several months or even years.1,2 Sometimes, the nerve impairment is permanent; however, if this is the case, there are ways to cope with the symptoms so they become less troublesome.1 Ask your doctor about which coping strategies, like acupuncture or pain management,1 are right for you.



  1. Macmillan. Peripheral neuropathy. Accessed March 2016.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Nerve changes and cancer drugs. Accessed March 2016.