October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and while the connection between your breasts and your feet may not seem obvious, those going through breast cancer treatment can tell you that one really does affect the other. Statistics suggest that 1 in 8 women in the US will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, breast cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women than any other cancer, but advances in treatment combined with early detection methods have reduced the number of deaths overall and mortality rates continue to fall.
One of the most common treatments for cancer still involves chemotherapy. Chemo is a full-body drug, meaning it can travel through your entire body and find and attack cancer cells. This also means however, that it can attack healthy cells and cause some unpleasant side effects. One such side effect is peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral Neuropathy is the loss of feeling in the toes, feet, fingers, or hands due to nerve damage – in this case, from chemotherapy drugs. Symptoms of neuropathy include numbness, tingling, and loss of sensation in the extremities. This can lead to missteps and falls or cuts or bruises that you can’t feel and therefore don’t attempt to heal. Neuropathy is a progressive disease so if you leave it untreated, it could lead to permanent nerve damage. The good news is that discontinuation of treatment with the drug causing the neuropathy can oftentimes lead to the symptoms disappearing.
If you are experiencing symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in your feet, there are a few things you will want to do to keep yourself safe. First, wear shoes or socks at all times, even when walking around the house. Make sure your shoes aren’t too snug though! Put non-slip mats wherever you can such as the bathtub, at the kitchen sink, or even in front of the washing machine. Sit down as much as you can and when you walk, make sure to pay attention to your feet to avoid tripping and falling. Look at your feet at least once a day and keep them clean and dry to avoid bacteria or fungus. You may want to talk to your podiatrist about getting special inserts for your shoes to help protect your feet. Also, avoid hot or cold extremes.
If we could magically kick every cancer cell out of your body and leave you happy and healthy we would, but unfortunately chemotherapy drugs are often a necessary part of breast cancer treatment. If you chemo drugs are giving you peripheral neuropathy, talk to your oncologist and then come see your podiatrist. You’ve got enough on your mind without worrying about your feet. Let us do that instead.