Has any medicine or supplement been shown to help lessen severity of peripheral neuropathy related to vincristine? Glutamine or gabapentin has not been successful in our experience. —Carrie L Lewis, RN, MSN, CPNP, CPON

Vincristine (Oncovin) is used in the treatment of a variety of cancers, including some leukemias and lymphomas. Rates of peripheral neuropathy with vincristine vary between regimens and patient populations, and have been reported in 35% to 45% of patients in some studies. Risk factors for development of peripheral neuropathy include higher doses of vincristine, larger cumulative doses of vincristine, the presence of baseline neuropathy, and some drug-drug interactions. Patients experiencing peripheral neuropathy due to vincristine may experience pain, tingling, numbness, and reduced sensation in the hands and feet.

Management of peripheral neuropathy may depend on the severity of symptoms and the patient’s treatment course. Patients with clinically significant neuropathy during vincristine therapy should be monitored closely and considered for a dose-reduction or vincristine discontinuation. Improvement or resolution of neuropathy may take up to 2 years, and some patients may experience a worsening of their neuropathy symptoms after vincristine is discontinued. Unfortunately, some patients may have ongoing neuropathy even after this time.

Treatment options for vincristine and other chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy include tricyclic antidepressants (eg, amitriptyline [Elavil]), anticonvulsants (eg, carbamazepine [Tegretol]), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (eg, duloxetine [Cymbalta]). Some supplements, such as glutamine and pyridoxine, have also been studied in the prevention of peripheral neuropathy. Although multiple agents have been studied to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, no agents have consistently shown a benefit in randomized phase 3 clinical trials. Opioids or other analgesics may be required to control pain symptoms in patients whose pain is not managed.

Early detection of vincristine-induced peripheral neuropathy with appropriate adjustment of a patient’s vincristine therapy is critical to reduce the risk of long-term neuropathy symptoms after treatment. Patients with persistent symptoms should be referred to a neurologist for a thorough work-up and consideration of alternate therapies. Working with an occupational therapist may also be helpful to restore lost function due to neuropathy. 

It’s that time of year again!

Spring 2014 DEA Drug Take Back Day events will be held on Saturday, April 26, from 10 am to 2 pm. These events are a great way for patients to dispose of expired or unwanted medications, including controlled substances such as pain medications. Since beginning in 2010, these events have disposed of more than 1,733 tons of prescription medications. For more information, including collection sites in your area, please visit www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/  after April 1st.

For information on how to advise patients regarding other ways to dispose of nonchemotherapy medications, please visit www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/educating-patients-about-the-proper-disposal-of-old-drugs/article/168850/.