Raynaud’s Phenomenon After Childhood Cancer

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Some childhood cancer survivors who received treatment with vinblastine or vincristine develop a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon. In this condition, areas of your body feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress.

What Is Raynaud’s Phenomenon?

In this disorder cold temperatures or stress cause your blood vessels to narrow, which limits blood flow for a short time. When this happens, your skin doesn’t get enough oxygen and can become pale then bluish. When the blood vessels relax and blood flow resumes, the skin can turn red. The hands and feet are affected most often, but Raynaud’s can involve your nose, lips, cheeks, and earlobes, too.

A Raynaud’s attack can last from seconds to hours. Symptoms include the following:

  • changes in skin color (often from white to blue to red),
  • changes in skin temperatures (affected areas feel cooler),
  • numbness or prickly feelings in the fingers (not thumbs) and toes, and
  • periods of throbbing pain and swelling

Am I at Risk?

Survivors who received treatment with chemotherapy drugs vinblastine or vincristine sometimes develop Raynaud’s.

What If I Have Raynaud’s?

Raynaud’s is a life-long condition for most people who have it, but symptoms can get better slowly over several years. The goal of treatment is to reduce the number and severity of attacks to prevent tissue damage.

Lifestyle Changes

Follow these tips to help prevent attacks:

  • Dress warmly when outdoors.
  • Take precautions indoors, too. For example, wear socks, avoid drafts such as when opening the refrigerator or freezer, wear mittens when handling cold items, use the air conditions only when needed, and use insulated drinking glasses.
  • Avoid putting bare hands in cold water.
  • Don’t use tobacco or illegal drugs like cocaine. Nicotine and cocaine constrict blood vessels and cause skin temperature to drop, which can lead to an attack.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. It can improve blood flow and stress levels.
  • Control stress. Doing so may help make attacks be shorter and occur less often.

Medicine and Biofeedback

Medicine that dilates blood vessels and aids in circulation is sometimes prescribed to help control severe symptoms.

Using your mind to control stress and body temperature may help to improve symptoms, too. This could include guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, or both. A psychologist may be able to help you design a biofeedback program that meets your needs.

Also, putting an affected body part in warm water may stop an attack triggered by exposure to cold.

What Should I Talk with My Doctor About?

Some medicine can make Raynaud’s symptoms worse. Talk with your doctor if you are taking any of these medicines and having symptoms of Raynaud’s:

  • birth control pills,
  • heart medicine,
  • blood pressure medicine,
  • cold medicine, and
  • diet pills.

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