December 21, 2012 – “Chemo brain” is defined as cognitive dysfunction in cancer patients that have received chemotherapy. The noted side effects are often problems with concentration, memory and fatigue. In a new study, some of these side effects previously associated with chemotherapy were found present in breast cancer patients before they started treatment.
The study team, led by Bernadine Cimprich, associate professor emerita at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, tested a group of 65 women with breast cancer. The survey sampling included cancer patients scheduled to receive chemotherapy and a group slated for radiation. The women in the two groups were asked to recall information and to report on their fatigue levels both before and after treatment.
The women receiving chemotherapy performed more inaccurately on the mental task tests both before and after treatment than their counterparts who received radiation. They also reported a higher level of fatigue. Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that although “chemo brain” resulting from chemotherapy treatments does exist, a person’s anxiety about the toxic side effects of the cancer-killing drugs could attribute to mental fogginess and tiredness. The distress of having cancer can weigh heavily on a person causing them to be mentally overburdened and lose focus and concentration; the anticipation of chemotherapy can make patients more vulnerable to and can compound cognitive dysfunction.
Early Intervention is Critical Prior to Chemotherapy Treatment
Ms. Cimprich believes the results of the research data are encouraging. Because chemotherapy alone may not be causing mental decline in cancer patients, education and awareness can help patients improve their mental stamina. There is an opportunity for doctors to improve the health and well-being of their patients before the chemotherapy process begins. By identifying patients who may be struggling with concentration or fatigue issues, doctors can offer these patients some preventive treatment options such as exercise, meditation and in some cases, cognitive behavioral therapy.
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