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

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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.




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