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Understanding ‘Chemo Brain’ Of Patients Undergoing Cancer Treatment



Cancer, although a deadly disease, is curable with proper medication and apt treatment procedures. One of the important components of the treatment is chemotherapy. Even though it is quite effective, chemo has many strong side effects that are usually difficult for the patient to cope with. One such is called the ‘Chemo Brain’. This term is used to describe the loss of memory as well as thinking capability.  Under this state, also known as chemo fog, the patient suffers from cognitive dysfunction.

There is a debate regarding whether the term chemo brain is appropriate since researchers believe that the condition is not only caused due to chemotherapy but is also a result of other cancer treatments. Researchers have been able to ascertain that certain drugs for cancer treatment too cause many changes in the functioning of the brain. It is clear from the definition that chemo brain is a debilitating condition that is not only difficult for the patient itself, but also for the family and friends of the patient.

Symptoms of Chemo Brain

Chemo brain exhibits certain specific symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in multi-tasking
  • Being disorganized most of the time
  • Being in a state of confusion
  • Inability to remember words
  • Inability to learn new tasks
  • Difficulty in performing daily tasks
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Fogginess in visual memory
  • Trouble in focusing, short attention span

Causes of Chemo Brain

As discussed earlier, researchers believe there are many factors contributing to this condition. Some of the causes include:

Apart from the treatments, there are many complications caused during the treatment that can lead to chemo brain:

  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Menopause due to hormone therapy
  • Sleep disorder
  • Age of the patient
  • Conjugated illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes

Risk Factors

Some of the factors that may aggravate memory problems in cancer patients and cancer survivors include:

  • Chemotherapy administered to the central nervous system directly
  • Brain cancer
  • Full brain radiation along with chemotherapy
  • Large doses of radiation and chemotherapy
  • A cancer diagnosis at a young age

How to Deal with Chemo Brain

Extensive research has been carried out regarding memory deterioration during and after cancer treatment. Experts have spelled out many resources that will enable patients to sharpen their mental skills and abilities. Some of the steps that can be taken include;

  • Formulate a detailed daily planner that will act as your reminder. You can mark everything that is important such as important dates, to-do lists, important numbers, and websites, etc.
  • It is important to flex your brain muscles and exercise them; so start solving puzzles, crosswords, or take a class or two in something challenging. Many also opt to learn a new language.
  • Make sure you get proper and adequate sleep
  • Exercise daily as it not only keeps the body healthy but also improves mood.
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Research shows that proper eating habits are linked to keeping the brain sharp and healthy.
  • Set a routine for every day so that you get accustomed to it and do not forget any important tasks.
  • Avoid multi-tasking
  • Seek the help of friends and family in order to help you maintain your daily schedule.

To summarize, although chemo brain causes a lot of discomfort to the patient, over time it tends to get better and most patients completely recover from this state. Make sure to communicate with your cancer team regarding your condition in order to receive maximum support and help that will eventually lead to a quick recovery.