Chemo Brain: A Chemotherapy Side Effect

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2015/05/06 - Updated: 2022/08/25
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Information regarding chemo brain, a reported mental fogginess after chemotherapy treatment, resulting in a slight loss of cognitive abilities. According to one of the leading experts on the phenomenon of chemo brain, Patricia Ganz, M.D. - not every cancer patient faces the same risk of experiencing chemo brain. Patricia's research has uncovered the reality that people at risk of chemo brain include adults and children. Those at risk of chemo brain include children and adults treated with whole-brain radiation for brain tumors and lymphoma and leukemia patients who received intra-spinal chemotherapy.

Chemo Brain

Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur during and after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, cancer-related cognitive impairment, or cognitive dysfunction. The word "cognitive" refers to how your brain works to help you communicate, think, learn, solve problems, and remember. Chemo brain is most commonly connected with chemotherapy, but other treatments, such as hormone therapy, radiation, and surgery, may be associated with it also. Chemo brain may last for a short time or many years.

Main Digest

For many years now, there has been chatter in the cancer community that anti-cancer treatment such as chemotherapy results in a 'mental fogginess,' that several people feel they cannot overcome. The experience is at times referred to as 'chemo brain.' People often report losing a bit of their cognitive abilities after chemotherapy treatment. They feel a bit more confused and do not feel as mentally sharp as they used to.

People lose an edge or so in their mental clarity as they age. The simple fact might be partly responsible for chemo brain, and it is one that people and health care professionals often overlook. How often do people have their cognitive abilities truly tested so that we may test them again with the same tests months or even a year later? With a lack of a cognitive baseline, it is tough to know objectively if a person's cognition or memory skills have changed due to chemotherapy treatment.

According to one of the leading experts on the phenomenon of chemo brain, Patricia Ganz, M.D. - not every cancer patient faces the same risk of experiencing chemo brain. Patricia's research has uncovered the reality that people at risk of chemo brain include adults and children. Those at risk of chemo brain include children and adults treated with whole-brain radiation for brain tumors, as well as lymphoma and leukemia patients who received intra-spinal chemotherapy.

Additional research suggests that some chemotherapy drugs affect the brain's ability to regenerate brain cells, which could be a main driving force behind chemo brain. The research, however, is ongoing and does not present enough evidence to assert anything one way or the other.

People who are concerned about chemo brain can look into clinical trials that might assist with the creation of a baseline for them before they even start chemotherapy. They may then be tested against their baseline later in time. They may also start mental exercises - even simple ones such as crossword or word search puzzles- before treatment to remain mentally sharp. Even though there are few good answers regarding the chemo brain, many intelligent people are working on understanding the issue.

Neurofeedback for Chemo Brain Study

Breast Cancer and Chemo Brain

People who are going to receive chemotherapy as a portion of their treatment for breast cancer many times wonder what the effects of chemo brain are, as well as how long it will last. 'Chemo brain' refers to the decreased cognitive function - the ability to remember and think, experienced by many people being treated for cancer, both women and men. People who experience chemo brain might find themselves unable to concentrate on their work, remember things as well as they used to in the past, or juggle multiple tasks.

Following years of being dismissed as a figment of a person's imagination or as a result of depression or anxiety, chemo brain is starting to be taken seriously by researchers and cancer doctors. The majority of breast cancer patients find their chemo brain goes away six months to one year after their treatment ends, yet others are not as fortunate. Some people experience memory loss and trouble managing multiple tasks even several years after treatment has stopped. Researchers have not yet determined the exact cause of the condition and why it is temporary in some people and permanent in others.

Women who are learning to live with chemo brain have discovered that cutting back on tasks at work, using an electronic organizer, and making lists have helped them to adjust and help with jogging their memories. Short-term memory strengthening exercises are also helpful.

Brain Scan Comparisons

Scientists scanned the brains of twenty-five women who had received various chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer, nineteen breast cancer survivors who had not received chemotherapy, and eighteen healthy women. Around 50% of breast cancer group people were taking a tamoxifen medication.' All of them were disease-free and had no history of cancer recurrence at the time of the study. While their brains were being scanned, the women were asked to do a card-sorting task on a computer.

Compared to the women who had never experienced breast cancer, the two groups of breast cancer patients notably reduced activation in a portion of the brain called the 'prefrontal cortex,' which is responsible for reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. The women who had received chemo showed the most reduced activation in that part of their brains. Whether the chemo itself or their more advanced disease diagnosis was to blame for the findings in the chemotherapy group remains unclear according to Doctor Shelli Kesler, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stanford University.

Compared to the women who'd never had breast cancer, the two groups of breast cancer patients demonstrated significantly reduced activation in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, reasoning, and problem-solving.

On average, the women had completed their chemotherapy treatment four years earlier, according to Dr. Kesler, who stated, "This study is fascinating because it shows these problems are long-term." Dr. Kesler theorizes that the changes found in the brains of survivors who had not received chemotherapy were due to inflammation caused by the disease itself or from radiation therapy, or from taking tamoxifen - which reduces a woman's amount of estrogen. The hormone has been linked to brain function and the ability to remember things.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2015, May 6). Chemo Brain: A Chemotherapy Side Effect. Disabled World. Retrieved April 17, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/cancer/treatment/chemobrain.php

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