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Breast cancer patients say ‘chemo brain’ is a substantial problem

January 18th, 2017

Breast cancer patients have long expressed concerns and frustration about the loss of mental clarity they sometimes experience before, during, and after chemotherapy treatment – often called ‘chemo brain’.

Now, the largest study of chemo brain to date, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, has found that it’s a substantial issue for as long as six months after treatment.

There are many terms for ‘chemo-brain’, including cancer treatment-related cognitive impairment, cancer-therapy associated cognitive change, and post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.

The symptoms can include lapses in concentration, difficulty remembering certain things, problems finishing tasks, or difficulty learning new skills.

The US study compared women with and without breast cancer, finding that from before chemo through to the six-month follow up, there was a significant decline in cognitive ability for those with breast cancer.

The study also showed that those with anxiety and depression before they underwent chemotherapy had greater cognitive decline.

NBCF is funding research into the adverse impact of chemotherapy in relation to brain inflammation, which although linked to neurological loss has not been investigated  in the context of breast cancer treatment.

Dr Adam Walker from Monash University is investigating how brain inflammation contributes to the debilitating cognitive and mood symptoms of cancer treatment. By seeking new ways to overcome the side-effects of chemotherapy, he aims to improve the long-term quality of life of breast cancer survivors.