What are the signs of ‘Chemo Brain'?
The extent of ‘chemo brain’ and how long it lasts varies from person to person, but common symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering facts e.g. people’s names, important dates
- Getting confused more easily
- Having trouble finding the right words or finishing sentences
- Finding it hard to multitask
- Taking longer to complete tasks
- Finding it hard to learn new skills
How long can ‘Chemo Brain’ last?
Due to difficulties in assessing and measuring the effects of ‘chemo brain’, there have been few studies into the duration of the cognitive impairment caused by cancer and its treatments. However, a recent mouse study has shown that chemotherapy may cause cognitive impairment which lasts up to 3 months after treatment is stopped. If this model is applied to humans, it would equate to 10 years. Thus suggesting that ‘chemo brain’ can have long lasting impact on the quality of life of cancer survivors.
Coping with ‘Chemo Brain’
Currently, no drug treatment can help cure ‘chemo brain’. However, for many people, the symptoms are mild and can be managed by adapting their daily routine. For example, writing important dates in a calendar, writing notes to help with remembering tasks, making a shopping list to help with the supermarket shop, etc.
For some people keeping a diary of symptoms can help too. With the help of a diary, it's easier to identify and minimise triggers (such as sleep deprivation). Identifying patterns in this way enables people to plan their day better, so that they do the most difficult tasks when they know they're likely to feel most able to cope with them.
There has also been lots of research on the effects of both physical exercise and mental exercise on reducing ‘chemo brain’. These studies suggest that memory and concentration can both improve through regular exercise, as well as brain exercises such as crosswords and sudoku.
What else can I do?
‘Chemo brain’ is a form of cognitive impairment that can affect anyone with cancer, whether they're receiving chemotherapy or another type of treatment. While there's no drug that can cure it, there are lots of common techniques and exercises that can help cancer survivors reduce the impact ‘chemo brain’ has on their life.
To find out more about 'chemo brain' and how you can fight it, browse our Mind and Brain collection.
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- Management of Cancer-related Cognitive Dysfunction—Conceptualization Challenges and Implications for Clinical Research and Practice. Pascal Jean-Pierre, PhD, MPH, US Oncol. 2010; 6: 9–12.
- Long-lasting impairments in adult neurogenesis, spatial learning and memory from a standard chemotherapy regimen used to treat breast cancer, Catarina Rendeiro et al., Behavioural Brain Research, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2016.07.043, published online 18 August 2016
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