Research on ‘Chemo Brain’: MRI Shows Brain Changes After Chemotherapy

Chemo Brain’: MRI Shows Brain Changes After Chemother­a­py (Med­scape):

- “Breast can­cer sur­vivors who have been treat­ed with chemother­a­py show sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain activ­i­ty, mea­sured by func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), accord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Novem­ber issue of the Archives of Neu­rol­o­gy.”

- “The find­ing val­i­dates patients’ claims of reduced cog­ni­tive func­tion after receiv­ing chemother­a­py, a phe­nom­e­non referred to as “chemo brain,” said lead author Shel­li R. Kesler, PhD, from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine in California.”

Link to study Pre­frontal Cor­tex and Exec­u­tive Func­tion Impair­ments in Pri­ma­ry Breast Can­cer (Archives of Neurology):

  • Objec­tives To exam­ine dif­fer­ences in pre­frontal-exec­u­tive func­tion between breast can­cer (BC) sur­vivors with and with­out a his­to­ry of chemother­a­py treat­ment com­pared with healthy con­trol women and to deter­mine the asso­ci­a­tions between pre­frontal cor­tex deficits and behav­ioral impair­ments, as well as cer­tain demo­graph­ic and dis­ease variables.
  • Design Obser­va­tion­al study.
  • Set­ting Uni­ver­si­ty-based research facility.
  • Par­tic­i­pants Twen­ty-five women with BC who had received chemother­a­py, 19 women with BC who had not received chemother­a­py, and 18 healthy female con­trols, all matched for age and oth­er demo­graph­ic variables.
  • Results Women with BC demon­strat­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced acti­va­tion in the left mid­dle dor­so­lat­er­al pre­frontal cor­tex and pre­mo­tor cor­tex com­pared with healthy con­trols. The chemother­a­py group also demon­strat­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced left cau­dal lat­er­al pre­frontal cor­tex acti­va­tion and increased per­se­ver­a­tive errors and reduced pro­cess­ing speed com­pared with the oth­er 2 groups. Reduced left cau­dal lat­er­al pre­frontal cor­tex acti­va­tion was sig­nif­i­cant­ly cor­re­lat­ed with high­er dis­ease sever­i­ty and ele­vat­ed sub­jec­tive exec­u­tive dys­func­tion in the chemother­a­py-treat­ed women. Old­er age and low­er edu­ca­tion­al lev­el were asso­ci­at­ed with increased exec­u­tive func­tion impair­ment in the chemother­a­py group.
  • Con­clu­sions These find­ings pro­vide fur­ther evi­dence of neu­ro­log­i­cal impair­ment asso­ci­at­ed with pri­ma­ry BC irre­spec­tive of treat­ment his­to­ry. The left cau­dal lat­er­al pre­frontal region may be par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the effects of chemother­a­py and/or dis­ease sever­i­ty and may rep­re­sent a nov­el bio­mark­er of sub­jec­tive exec­u­tive dys­func­tion in chemother­a­py-treat­ed women. Fur­ther­more, neg­a­tive effects of chemother­a­py on brain func­tion may be exac­er­bat­ed by such fac­tors as increased age and low­er edu­ca­tion­al level.

To learn more, see relat­ed arti­cles on Chemo Brain.


  1. FredrickM on November 24, 2011 at 10:14

    yes it is true that left cau­dal lat­eral pre­frontal region may be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the effects of chemother­apy and/or dis­ease sever­ity and may rep­re­sent a nov­el bio­marker of sub­jec­tive exec­u­tive dys­func­tion in chemother­a­py-treat­ed women. Thanks for the post.

    • Alvaro Fernandez on December 1, 2011 at 7:49

      Good point, Fredrick. It is going to be very inter­est­ing to track what kind of mark­ers, bio and/ or cog­ni­tive, will get real traction.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

Top Articles on Brain Health and Neuroplasticity

Top 10 Brain Teasers and Illusions


Subscribe to our e-newsletter

* indicates required

Got the book?