ChemoBrain can Last

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

MARCH 02, 2017

There has been a lot written about chemobrain or chemofog with reluctant acknowledgment that it can be quite persistent for some people post treatment. Most of us feel less than our baseline cognitive sharpness during active treatment. Whether that is a function of all the drugs or stress or anxiety or fatigue is uncertain; one would assume that it is a combination of at least all those things.

What has changed over the past few years is the recognition that it does not always quickly vanish once the chemotherapy is done. Most of us feel pretty much normal (in that way) quite soon, but I talk with women each week who feel, even several years later, that they have never regained their pre-cancer intellect. Their descriptions usually include difficulties with executive functions, most especially with memory and the ability to multi-task. Most of us learn to adapt, to quickly switch direction in a sentence if we lose a word or to otherwise compensate. But not everyone is successful at this.

Although this study was about women after breast cancer treatment, it applies to everyone.

This article from Medscape talks more about this issue:

'Chemofog' Persists in Many After Breast Cancer Treatment
Fran Lowry

Breast cancer survivors report substantially more cognitive difficulties as much as 6 months after chemotherapy compared with age-matched controls, according to new research.
The result, from a study of 581 breast cancer patients recruited from community practices across the United States, adds to evidence from other studies which show that cognitive difficulties after chemotherapy, colloquially known as chemofog or chemo brain, are a real problem for breast cancer survivors, the authors write. "One of the main goals of our study, which was the largest prospective, longitudinal study in the community to date, was to help us understand more about the cognitive complaints that patients often report during their cancer treatments and to better understand the trajectory of those cognitive problems," lead author Michelle C. Janelsins, PhD, from the James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute, University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, told Medscape Medical News.
"We found that a significant percentage of our breast cancer patients, 45.2%, reported that they had clinically meaningful in their cognitive function from before treatment to after treatment, compared with only 10% of healthy controls," Dr Janelsins said.
"That's a lot of people who are complaining of problems. And after 6 months, although there was some rebound, still 36.5% of breast cancer patients were complaining of problems with cognitive function, compared with 13.6% in the control group.

Note from me: This study looked at women six months out of treatment. I hear this complaint from women who are five years out; I wish someone would look at the even longer term impact.

Read more:

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