CogniFit's Science blog: Chemotherapy Affects More Than Memory

Chemotherapy Affects More Than Memory

Although chemotherapy saves the lives of millions of cancer patients each year, it takes a significant toll on the cognitive function and emotional lives of the survivors.

Until recently, "chemobrain" was thought to be a temporary reaction to the chemotherapy that did not affect a significant proportion of patients.

But research into the matter and an effort for chemotherapy survivors to tell their stories has shown that the symptoms are experienced by a large number of chemo patients and that while some of the side effects may be temporary, the emotional and cognitive scars may be permanent.

Chemobrain symptoms include memory loss, difficulty in thinking and the loss of ability to concentrate. Women who completed cancer treatment described a variety of emotions including fear, frustration and emotional exhaustion.

Many of the women feared losing their independence because they would not be able to take care of themselves the way they had before the chemotherapy. They had to take more time off from work and spend less time engaged in social activities. Many felt that the medical community was not paying enough attention to the chemobrain symptoms.

They were especially hard hit in their working lives. Their inability to focus, concentrate or remember things hurt their job performance and ruined their chances of advancement.

The research was conducted in the Center for culture and Health at the University of California - Los Angeles, and was published In the Journal of Cancer Survivorship. The researchers noted that “these data underscore the very serious ways in which chemobrain can affect the life experiences of cancer survivors; emotionally, psychologically and economically.”

The researchers hope that “a clear understanding of the cognitive impairments experienced by survivors will aid researchers in developing targeted therapies and interventions aimed at improving or mitigating these post-treatment side effects.” Your brain needs to be taken care of.