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Chemo Brain: cognitive effects of chemotherapy

Good NYT article today on how Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion. Quotes:

  • “Virtually all cancer survivors who have had toxic treatments like chemotherapy experience short-term memory loss and difficulty concentrating during and shortly afterward, experts say. But a vast majority improve. About 15 percent, or roughly 360,000 of the nation’s 2.4 million female breast cancer survivors, the group that has dominated research on cognitive side effects, remain distracted years later, according to some experts. And nobody knows what distinguishes this 15 percent.”
  • “The central puzzle of chemo brain is that many of the symptoms can occur for reasons other than chemotherapy.”
  • “Abrupt menopause, which often follows treatment, also leaves many women fuzzy-headed in a more extreme way than natural menopause, which unfolds slowly. Those cognitive issues are also features of depression and anxiety, which often accompany a cancer diagnosis. Similar effects are also caused by medications for nausea and pain.”

There are at least a couple cognitive neuroscience teams in the US and Israel developing computer-based cognitive training programs that can be helpful for this population. We will keep you informed as we see good results and tools.

Previous stories:

ACS: Researchers Verify Chemo Brain in Cancer Survivors

  • The study results showed that those treated with chemotherapy scored significantly lower on standardized tests measuring mental and psychological functions than those who had only local therapy. The chemotherapy patients’ scores were lower on average whether or not patients reported having depression, anxiety or fatigue, which can also reduce mental function.

ScienceDaily: Scientists Find ‘Chemo Brain’ No Figment Of The Imagination – Chemo ‘brain fog’ can refuse to lift

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4 Responses

  1. Margaret C. says:

    I had chemo therapy at age 30. I have the BRCA 1 cancer gene. I’m a breast cancer survivor. My chemo was given in 1977 for a year. This was done with an IV push method. Not an IV drip. The Dr. pushed the drugs into my veins. I could feel the heat rise all the way to the top of my head. I can tell you I understand Chemo Brain. I’m relieved there is a name attached to it now. I worked as a Medical Office Administrator for many years after my recovery. However, my Chemo Brain has not imporved. I notice with aging it’s even more noticable. It’s still worth it though because I’ve been here to see my grandchildren. Chemo Brain and all, I see it as a gift of life.

  2. Alvaro says:

    Margaret: thanks for sharing your story. And your great attitude.

    The great news is that neuroscientists are starting to understand the problem and how to help alleviate it. If you check back in a couple of months, there may be data specific for your case regarding the benefits of computer-based cognitive training, and that may help. A program like helps in a number of aging-related areas, Chemo Brain or not

  3. Thomas Arnold says:

    After a round of CHOP, six sessions of RICE and an attempted stem cell transplant… I really understand the term fog… work related activities take much longer and a great deal more concentrations… I do highway construction estimating and don’t trust my capabilities as before… it is really scary somdays… my doctor seems to think it is caused by deoression but i am enjoying the fact that i am still here…

  4. Alvaro says:

    Hello Thomas,

    We are very glad that you are here, too. And, with time and continued practice, those capabilities you need for your job should improve, so please keep doing your best.

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