News You Can Use
Chemo May Not Cause Chemobrain
By Marilynn Larkin
Women on chemotherapy frequently report problems with memory and concentration (so-called “chemobrain”), but this may actually have more to do with the shock and stress of being diagnosed than with the drugs, researchers reported at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting.
One of the two small studies followed women before each of their chemotherapy cycles and one month after their final one. First, participants reported how often they suffered mental lapses such as forgetting where they put things.
Then they were given tests on memory, concentration and other cognitive skills. The women who said they had trouble with mental tasks were not necessarily the ones who performed poorly on the tests.
At Michigan State University, researchers compared cognitive ability, anxiety and quality of life among three groups: early-stage breast cancer patients who had not yet received treatment (although some did begin it during the test period), women who had recently had a benign breast biopsy and survivors who had completed treatment.
On difficult tests of learning and memory, women starting chemo performed about as well as the healthy women. Breast cancer survivors, meanwhile, were the fastest and most accurate of all.
Study author Michael Boivin, PhD, MPH, suggests that cognitive lapses may be related to the fatigue and emotional stress of the illness—a theory that could be reassuring to cancer patients reluctant to undergo chemo for fear of memory loss.