Chemo Brain: Research Shows it’s Real

Chemo Brain Research

There is now evidence that Chemo Brain is a real thing. Those going through Chemotherapy may experience changes in concentration and memory loss, even after chemotherapy has ended.

Chemo brain is described as a mental fog and loss of coping skills. Dr. Rachel A Lagos, from the West Virginia University School of Medicine, who led the study noted, “Because this is such a common patient complaint, health-care providers have generically referred to its occurrence as ‘chemo brain’ for more than two decades.”

Researchers in the past have had a tough time trying to figure out whether it’s a psychological response to the trauma of having cancer, or a direct physiological result of treatment. Previous studies have used MRI’s ( magnetic resonance imaging) and found that small changes do happen in the brain after one has been through chemo, but not enough evidence to back it up.

Finally, researchers used a PET/CT in the latest study and found that the changes to the brain’s metabolism after chemotherapy was more evident and chemo brain is real.

“When we looked at the results, we were surprised at how obvious the changes were,” Dr. Lagos said. “Chemo brain phenomenon is more than a feeling. It is not depression. It is a change in brain function observable on PET/CT brain imaging.”

After looking at images from the brains of 128 people who had been through chemo treatment for breast cancer, doctors found a very clear connection. Post-chemo, there are specific areas of the brain that use less energy. While this might be an unavoidable side-effect, now doctors are aware that chemo brain is real.

“The study shows that there are specific areas of the brain that use less energy following chemotherapy,” Dr. Lagos said. “These brain areas are the ones known to be responsible for planning and prioritizing.”

What does that mean for patients and families? It means early intervention to prepare patients and their families for what might be ahead during and after they go through chemotherapy.

“The next step is to establish a prospective study that begins assessing new patients at the time of cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Lagos said. “The prospective study has the potential to establish an understanding of the change in brain neurotransmitters during chemotherapy, which may lead to improved treatment or prevention.”

Chemo brain symptoms may include:

  • Being unusually disorganized
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Difficulty learning new skills
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of mental fogginess
  • Short attention span
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks
  • Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation
  • Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words

Chemo Brain is Real

Chemo brain research has proved it to be real. By examining images that measure how the brain uses energy, researchers discovered chemotherapy sets off specific changes in parts of the brain that control memory and decision-making.

Coping with ‘Chemo Brain’

Many women who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer describe unsettling changes to the memory and concentration. Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center say this phenomenon is very real, and have even given it a name: Chemo brain.

Chemo Brain After Cancer Treatment

“Chemo brain” and “chemo fog” describe memory problems cancer survivors experience after treatment. Learn strategies for dealing with these problems from Dr. Mary-Ellen Meadows of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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1 Comment on "Chemo Brain: Research Shows it’s Real"

  1. My mother has been on chemo for months now, and has complained of this exact feeling. We all pick on her and say she’s always been like that, things like that – but everyone knew this was a real thing. Not just the fatigue, but a true change in the brain. My mom described it as “chemo fog.” It’s great to see brand new research validating her.

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