ChemoBrain and PTSD

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 30, 2017

This seems to be such an obvious link/association that I am rather surprised not to have read about it before. Or, if I were really on top of things, I would have written about it. Everyone knows that we don't perform at our highest level or think our most clearly when we are anxious or stressed. Most of us would concur that going through cancer is traumatic, and I have long expressed my belief that most of us come out with some version of PTSD. Ergo, of course, the two issues are connected!

This thoughtful article from EurekAlert! Science Alert describes a recent German study in which women who had been treated for breast cancer, with or without chemotherapy, had mild cognitive decline and difficulties. I see no reason why these results would not apply to people going through treatment for other cancers.

Here is the start and a link to read more:

Chemobrain': Post-traumatic stress affects cognitive function in cancer patients

Subtle cognitive dysfunction and decline in breast cancer patients was largely independent of chemotherapy but associated with cancer-related post-traumatic stress in a German multisite study.

Many breast cancer patients report problems of cognitive functioning, and some are considerably burdened by them. These symptoms have mainly been attributed to neurotoxic effects of chemotherapy, as reflected in the colloquial term 'chemobrain'. Now a longitudinal study in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients from six institutions in the area of Munich, Germany, investigated the role of post-traumatic stress in the causation of cancer-related cognitive impairment. The project was funded by the Deutsche Krebshilfe and led by psychologist Kerstin Hermelink (Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, CCC LMU University Hospital of Munich). In the first year after diagnosis, breast cancer patients treated with and without chemotherapy showed minimal cognitive dysfunction and decline, which were associated with post-traumatic stress due to having cancer. "It is well-established that post-traumatic stress - not to be confused with everyday stresses - has disruptive effects on the brain," Hermelink says. "For many patients, being diagnosed with breast cancer is a traumatic experience. The hypothesis that cognitive dysfunction in breast cancer patients is caused by post-traumatic stress seemed therefore worth pursuing.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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