Strictly's Amy Dowden opens up about post-chemo condition that impacts nerves

Amy Dowden arrives at the Pride Of Britain Awards 2023 at Grosvenor House, London, UK.08/10/2023Credit Photo (c)Karwai TangFor more information, please contact:Karwai Tang 07950
Amy Dowden has spoken about her experience after eight rounds of chemotherapy. (Getty Images)

Amy Dowden has opened up about her experience after undergoing chemotherapy, and said she “deluded” herself into thinking she was “going to be fine” after the treatment.

The Strictly Come Dancing star, 33, underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. She rang the cancer bell in November, a symbol that patients have come to the end of chemotherapy, which can be extremely difficult to go through.

In a new appearance on ITV’s Lorraine on Wednesday 13 December, Dowden said she experienced a side effect of chemotherapy called neuropathy, which led her to break her foot while dancing.

Asked how she is, Dowden told Lorraine: “I’m OK, taking every day as it comes but I think I was a bit deluded when I rang the chemo bell. I find it mentally tougher now because I was seeing a doctor every other week, I had a routine.

“And I honestly thought that once I’d rung the bell, I was going to be fine but actually, I’ve broken my foot, I’ve had a blood clot in my lung. You’ve got to recover from chemo, I had eight tough rounds of it. Others think I’m fine, but no, the journey is not over.”

Dowden said she had plans to perform at the finale of Strictly, which is set to air on Saturday 16 December, but is unable to dance after she broke her foot due to a condition called neuropathy, which occurs because of chemotherapy.

“Chemo causes neuropathy, so you lose the feeling in your hands and your feet, and I just think I didn’t have my foot completely on the ground,” she told Lorraine. “I cried so much, I just wanted to be back dancing.”

What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage, also known as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

According to Cancer Research UK, neuropathy occurs because, while chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it can also cause harm to healthy cells, including peripheral nerve cells that are responsible for sending messages to and from the central nervous system and the rest of the body.

This causes patients to lose feeling in parts of their body, particular extremities like the hands, lower legs and feet.

A selective focus shot of a male holding his painful wrist
Hands and feet are particularly susceptible to neuropathy developing after chemotherapy. (Getty Images)

Not everyone who goes through chemotherapy will experience neuropathy, although it is very common. But there is no way to see who is at higher risk of developing the condition, and doctors and patients simply have to wait and see if symptoms appear.

What are the symptoms of neuropathy?

Symptoms of neuropathy are usually mild at the beginning, and gradually get worse, according to MacMillan Cancer Support.

They can include:

  • Pins and needles

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Pain

  • Muscle weakness that makes it difficult to walk or do tasks

  • Constipation and feeling bloated if nerves in the bowel have been damaged

  • Light-headed or dizziness

  • Difficulty doing up buttons or picking up small objects

  • Balance and coordination problems

Patients who experience symptoms of neuropathy usually find that their symptoms improve with time as the nerves recover, although this can be slow, taking up to several months or more.

But for some people, neuropathy can be permanent. There is no treatment to prevent or reverse it, although there are studies being conducted in this area. However, there are ways to manage the symptoms and prevent further damage to the nerves.

How do you manage neuropathy?

In some cases, your doctor may be able to help you manage symptoms of neuropathy by lowering the dose of the anti-cancer drug you’re on. However, if symptoms continue to worsen, you may have to stop treatment, in which case you should speak to your cancer specialist and discuss other types of anti-cancer drugs or treatments you can take instead.

Other ways to manage neuropathy symptoms include:

Treating pain: You may be prescribed drugs that can help relieve nerve pain, such as Gabapentin and pregabalin, or painkillers.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may also be an option, to be determined by physiotherapists or pain teams. A TENS machine is a device with cables connected to sticky pads that stick to the skin and give off small electrical pulses to help stimulate nerves close to the painful area.

Physiotherapy: A physiotherapist can help if you are having problems with coordination, muscle weakness, balance, and walking.

Psychological support: Getting mental health support from psychotherapists and counsellors can help you navigate feelings of frustration, anxiety or fear that can accompany neuropathy.

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