Nerve Damage Common with Cancer Drug

Eloxatin appears to cause progressive nerve damage

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

(RxWiki News) There's no question that the drug works against a tenacious foe. Yet a chemotherapy agent used to treat advanced colorectal cancer seems to cause a harsh side effect for most patients.


Researchers are now finding that an extremely effective  colorectal chemotherapy agent - Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) - appears to leave patients with permanent nerve damage. In some cases, this damage worsens over time.

"Ask your oncologist about ways to limit nerve damag."

Johns Hopkins researchers monitored this side effect related to Eloxatin by performing a series of simple, inexpensive punch skin biopsies. This study was led by Michael Polydefkis, M.D., M.H.S., associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the EMG Laboratory and Cutaneous Nerve Laboratory at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Dr. Polydefkis and colleagues worked with eight advanced colon cancer patients who were to begin oxaliplatin treatment. The team followed these patients until 180 days after the therapy was complete.

Each patient had a thorough neurological exam before beginning treatment to test nerve function and look for signs of existing damage. The punch biopsy extracted tiny bits of skin near patients' knees and ankles.

Researchers found that nerve cells degenerated during the therapy in seven of the eight patients.

Nerve function and neuropathy (tingling, pain and/or numbness) in the hands, feet and throat got worse over time, even six months after the therapy ended.

Dr. Polydefkis says this study demonstrates that patients who have received Eloxatin should be aware of these side effects and work with their doctors to find ways to limit the damage.

The study also suggests that punch skin biopsies are an easy, effective and inexpensive way to monitor nerve cell degeneration. This method could be used to test the effectiveness of drugs being developed to prevent, halt or slow neurological damage.

This research was published in the September, 2011 issue of Neurology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 14, 2011
Last Updated:
October 15, 2011