Antidepressant Eases Chemotherapy Side Effects

Cancer chemotherapy side effect abated with Cymbalta

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Painful, prickly tingling in the toes, feet, fingers and hands. That's what peripheral neuropathy feels like, and it's a common side effect of certain chemotherapy drugs. An unlikely medication may offer a reprieve.

The antidepressant Cymbalta (duloxetine) has been found to relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy in about 60 percent of patients who used it, according to a new study.

"Find out what therapies are available to treat chemo side effects."

Neuropathy is more of an uncomfortable annoyance for many people being treated for cancer. For about 30 percent of folks, though, the condition is painful, and up until now there hasn't been an effective remedy.

Ellen M. Lavoie Smith, PhD, APRN, AOCN, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and a researcher at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, led a study to look for answers.

Researchers worked with 231 patients who had painful neuropathy after being given the drugs oxaliplatin or paclitaxel, which are used to treat a number of different cancers.

Participants were randomly given either Cymbalta or a placebo for five weeks and were asked to monitor their pain every week during the study.

Those receiving the medication started at half the normal dose of Cymbalta - 30 milligrams, which was slowly increased to the full dose by week four.

About six in 10 patients - 59 percent - who took the Cymbalta reported pain relief, compared with 39 percent of those who took a placebo.

The most common side effect was fatigue; few other severe side effects were reported.

"These drugs don't work in everyone. The good news is it worked in the majority of patients," said Smith.

Peripheral neuropathy can become so painful that oncologists will decrease chemotherapy dosing. Yet some patients are reluctant to say anything about the pain because they fear it will interfere with their cancer therapy.

"Patients make this trade-off sometimes: They don't want to give up the chemotherapy and decide they'd rather have this pain. That's a terrible trade off to make," Smith says.

She added, "We need to figure out who are the responders. If we can predict who they are, we can target the treatment to the people it's going to work for."

Findings from this research were presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No funding information was provided, and authors disclosed no conflicting financial relationships.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2012
Last Updated:
August 24, 2012