‘Chemo Brain’ is Real. This is What It Feels Like.

Woman scratching head, question marks in background.
Print icon

As if the diagnosis and treatment for cancer weren’t bad enough, side effects like “chemo brain” can further upend your life and leave you searching for keys, eyeglasses or even words.

“Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems they experience after chemotherapy,” says Dr. Sapna Khubchandani, an oncologist and breast health specialist with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group Oncology and Hematology in Waterford.

Chemotherapy treatment for cancer chemotherapy can cause numerous central nervous system complications. Studies with breast-cancer survivors reveal that almost 50 percent have chemo brain after chemotherapy.

More: How Extending Treatment Reduces Breast Cancer Recurrence

“This affects the cognitive domains of attention, memory psychomotor speed and executive function,” says Dr. Khubchandani.

Typical symptoms of chemo brain can include:

  • Decreased short term memory.
  • Problem findings words.
  • Short attention span.
  • Difficulty concentrating and multitasking.

A new study published recently in the professional journal Neuroscience, however, challenges the concept that chemotherapy leads to chemo brain. Study author Dr. Gordon Winocur suggests that the memory and thinking problems experienced by cancer survivors are not the effects of chemotherapy but may start when the tumors form and develop.

“It’s interesting because in his studies of female mice with breast cancer, he is able to demonstrate impaired performance in learning and memory before chemotherapy drugs were even administered,” Dr. Khubchandani says. “His work shows that the cancer is responsible for some of the memory and thinking complaints experienced by cancer survivors, and that drug therapy adds to the problem.”

Several other studies are currently looking at ways to prevent chemo brain through the use of stimulants, mood stabilizers and even anti-Alzheimer’s drugs.

Dr. Khubchandani suggests that cancer patients and survivors who experience chemo brain try the following to alleviate the symptoms:

  • Aerobic exercises.
  • Treatment for any underlying anxiety or depression.
  • A blood test to check thyroid function.
  • Increased intake of B12 and Vitamin D.
  • Brain and memory games.

Dr. Sapna Khubchandani, an oncologist and breast health specialist with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group Oncology and Hematology in Waterford, is accepting new-patient referrals at 860.443.4455.

 

 

 


What's New

Cancer cells.

Dr. Wylie Hosmer: Weaponizing Your Immune System Against Cancer

By Dr. Wylie D. Hosmer The three most terrifying words in the English language may be: “You have cancer.” But exciting advances in research have uncovered more powerful treatment options, using the patient’s immune system, to target and attack cancer cells. More research is needed, but this treatment known as...


Child Car Seat Safety: Installation is Key

Did you know that accidents – including car accidents – are the leading cause of children’s deaths? Child safety seats can reduce death by as much as 71 percent and prevent injury but only if they are used correctly, according to Safe Kids Connecticut. Connecticut law requires that all children...

Woman taking out trash.

Is Taking Out The Trash Any Way To Live Longer? (Really?)

Thanks to fitness-tracker accelerometers, researchers have learned more precisely the amount of physical activity it takes to live a longer, fitter life. Surprisingly, not much. Three studies that used accelerometers to measure participants’ activity  concluded in recent months that even the lightest regular physical activity — making a bed, taking...

IV bags.

How Hurricane Maria Caused Nationwide IV Bag Shortage

With a nationwide shortage of intravenous bags, clinical pharmacies across Hartford Healthcare are working to ensure patient care isn’t interrupted. The Wall Street Journal reported that the shortage began in September after a group of IV bag manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico lost power because of Hurricane Maria. The shortage...

Man with flu.

The ‘Man Flu’: A Severe Case or Severe Wimpiness?

When it comes to complaining about flu and other upper-respiratory infection symptoms, men might not be wimps after all.  Maybe. A new study by researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada found that “man flu” — a term often used by women who think that men complain more about...