Functional brain training alleviates chemotherapy-induced peripheral nerve damage in cancer survivor

March 3, 2017, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Sarah Prinsloo, Ph.D. Credit: MD Anderson Cancer Center

A type of functional brain training known as neurofeedback shows promise in reducing symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nerve damage, or neuropathy, in cancer survivors, according to a study by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The pilot study, published in the journal Cancer, is the largest, to date, to determine the benefits of neurofeedback in cancer survivors.

Chronic chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is caused by damage to the nerves that control sensation and movement in arms and legs. CIPN is estimated to affect between 71 and 96 percent of patients one month after chemotherapy treatment, with symptoms including pain, burning, tingling and loss of feeling, explained Sarah Prinsloo, Ph.D., assistant professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine.

"There is currently only one approved medication to treat CIPN and it has associated muscle aches and nausea," said Prinsloo, lead investigator of the study. "Neurofeedback has no known negative side effects, can be used in combinations with other treatments and is reasonably cost effective."

In previous research, Prinsloo identified the location of that contributes to the physical and emotional aspects of chronic pain. By targeting areas that are active during pain episodes, neurofeedback teaches participants to understand pain signals differently.

The researchers developed training protocols which allow patients to retrain their own brain activity through electroencephalogram (EEG) neurofeedback. The EEG interface tracks and records by attaching small metal discs with thin wires to the scalp. Brain wave signals are sent to a computer and displayed for participants, who receive visual and auditory rewards when making targeted adjustments to brain wave patterns.

The randomized, controlled study enrolled 71 MD Anderson patients of all cancer types; all were at least three months post-chemotherapy treatment and reported more than a three on the National Cancer Institute's neuropathy rating scale. The Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) assessment was used to measure the severity of pain and impact on daily functioning. The BPI worst-pain item was the primary outcome.

Patients in the neurofeedback group attended 20 sessions in which they played a computer game that trained them to modify brain wave activity in the targeted area. Over time, participants learned to manipulate brain activity without an immediate reward from the game. The control group was offered the neurofeedback intervention at the conclusion of the study.

After completing treatment, participants repeated EEG measurements and pain assessments to determine changes in pain perception, cancer related symptoms, quality of life and in targeted areas.

At the beginning of the study, groups reported no significant differences in neuropathy symptoms. At the completion of the study, patients in the neurofeedback group reported significantly reduced BPI scores for worst pain, activity interference, numbness, tingling, and unpleasantness, compared to the control group.

Patients with CIPN also exhibited specific and predictable EEG signatures in the targeted brain regions that changed with neurofeedback.

"We observed clinically and statistically significant reductions in peripheral neuropathy following neurofeedback techniques," said Prinsloo. "This research suggests that neurofeedback may be a valuable approach to reduce neuropathy symptoms and their impact on daily activities."

One limitation of the study was the lack of a placebo group. Researchers studied areas of the brain that are active during placebo relief and determined that, although the placebo effect could be a factor, it was not the only factor leading to symptom improvement, said Prinsloo. Additionally, most study participants were female and breast . Future research will need to include a broader participant base to determine if the findings apply across the general population.

Current approved drugs for CIPN have known of side effects. The lack of adverse effects using is particularly important to emphasize for cancer patients with existing comorbidities.

Explore further: Neurofeedback reduces pain, increases quality of life for cancer patients suffering from chemotherapy-induced neuropathy

Related Stories

Neurofeedback reduces pain, increases quality of life for cancer patients suffering from chemotherapy-induced neuropathy

March 11, 2016
A new study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center evaluating the use of neurofeedback found a decrease in the experience of chronic pain and increase quality of life in patients with neuropathic pain.

Successful insomnia treatment may require nothing more than a placebo

February 21, 2017
A new study published in Brain indicates that successful treatment for insomnia may not actually require complicated neurofeedback (direct training of brain functions). Rather, it appears patients who simply believe they're ...

Are EEG neurofeedback benefits due to placebo effects?

June 3, 2016
Neurofeedback using electroencephalograpy boasts thousands of practitioners and appears to both improve normal brain function and alleviate a wide variety of mental disorders – from anxiety to alcoholism. But after examining ...

Nicotinamide riboside (vitamin B3) prevents nerve pain caused by cancer drugs

February 23, 2017
A new study in rats suggests that nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, may be useful for treating or preventing nerve pain (neuropathy) caused by chemotherapy drugs. The findings by researchers at the University ...

Autonomic neuropathy after chemotherapy—is it permanent?

February 22, 2017
Dear Mayo Clinic: After six months of chemotherapy, I developed autonomic neuropathy. I have been done with chemotherapy for a few months, but the neuropathy has not gone away. Is there a chance it could be permanent?

When output becomes part of input

September 19, 2016
Neurofeedback is a technique used for the treatment of clinical disorders (like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, ADHD and schizophrenia etc.) and enhancement of brain performance. It is based on the "self-regulation" of ...

Recommended for you

Study involving hundreds of patient samples may reveal new treatment options of leukemia

October 17, 2018
After more than five years and 672 patient samples, an OHSU research team has published the largest cancer dataset of its kind for a form of leukemia. The study, "Functional Genomic Landscape of Acute Myeloid Leukemia", published ...

A 150-year-old drug might improve radiation therapy for cancer

October 17, 2018
A drug first identified 150 years ago and used as a smooth-muscle relaxant might make tumors more sensitive to radiation therapy, according to a recent study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer ...

Loss of protein p53 helps cancer cells multiply in 'unfavourable' conditions

October 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered a novel consequence of loss of the tumour protein p53 that promotes cancer development, according to new findings in eLife.

New method uses just a drop of blood to monitor lung cancer treatment

October 17, 2018
Dr. Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering the immune T-cell protein PD-1. This discovery led to a set of anti-cancer medications called checkpoint inhibitors, one of the first of ...

Gene screening technique helps identify genes involved in a fatty liver-associated liver cancer

October 17, 2018
With an estimated twenty-thousand protein-coding genes in the human genome, pinpointing a specific gene or pathway responsible for a particular disease can be like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. This has certainly ...

Scientists zero in on ways to boost colorectal cancer screening

October 17, 2018
A comprehensive analysis by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers evaluated more than 70 clinical studies to identify some of the most effective methods for boosting U.S. colorectal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.