Neurofeedback Training Enables Cancer Survivors to Control Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

Chronic pain was decreased and quality of life was increased through neurofeedback, according to research presented at the American Psychosomatic Society 2016 Annual Meeting.1

After 1 month of chemotherapy treatment, 71% to 96% of patients are affected by chronic chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Peripheral neuropathy is a set of symptoms such as pain, burning, tingling, and loss of feeling caused by damage to nerves that control the sensations and movements of our arms and legs.

The ability of the brain to form new connections and change existing ones is known as neuroplasticity. This study indicated that neurofeedback can induce neuroplasticity to improve peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

The study identified the location of brain activity that contributes to the physical and emotional aspects of chronic pain. The study participants were able to modify their own brain activity through electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback. EEG tracks and records brain wave patterns. Small metal discs with thin wires are attached on the scalp and signals are sent to a computer that records the results.

"Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is very common in cancer patients and there is currently only 1 medication approved to treat it. I'm encouraged to see the significant improvements in patient's quality of life after treatment. This treatment is customized to the individual, and is relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and nonaddictive," said Sarah Prinsloo, PhD, assistant professor Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and lead investigator of the study.

Seventy-one patients were recruited. They had all cancer types and were all at least 3 months post chemotherapy treatment. All rated their neuropathy as 3 or higher on the National Cancer Institute's neuropathy rating scale.

The 71 patients were assigned to either attend 20 sessions of neurofeedback training or to a control group that was not treated. Neurofeedback training involved playing a computer game that rewarded them when they modified their brainwave activity in the affected area. They then learned to modify the activity without an immediate reward from the game.

After treatment, 73% of the patients saw improvement in their pain and quality of life. Also, specific and predictable EEG signatures were changed with neurofeedback. The intervention significantly reduced pain, numbness, intensity, and unpleasantness, and the interference of pain with daily activities.

A second study was recently funded and will focus exclusively on patients with breast cancer experiencing neuropathy.


1. Prinsloo S, Novy D, Driver L, et al. Neurofeedback as treatment for chronic chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Paper presented at: American Psychosomatic Society 2016 Annual Meeting; March 9-12, 2016; Denver, Colorado. Abstract 1567.

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