Jaenell L. Ditsious, FNP-C with Coastal Cancer Center explains "Chemo Brain"

We often hear from patients receiving chemotherapy that they have trouble with concentration, feel disorganized or have short term memory problems.  All of these symptoms have been documented and research is currently being done to explain and understand why these memory changes take place.  The common term for these symptoms is "chemo brain".

Those at risk for developing these issues are the very young or very old, those receiving high dose chemotherapy or those receiving brain radiation.  Mayo Clinic reports that chemotherapy alone can cause this, but with the added stress of the cancer itself on the body, hormone therapy, nausea medication and the use of narcotics all can add to the affects on memory.

The good news is that not all patients experience these type of memory problems.  For those that do, it usually fades over time; however,   it may be frustrating while living through it.  Currently, there are no blood tests or scans that diagnose this condition. 

Treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms the patient describes.  These are just a few suggestions to help patients manage their memory problems:

  1.  Play memory building games:  crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, chess, sudoko
  2. Reduce stress-with relaxation, yoga, exercise, music, meditation
  3. Talk to family and friends about what is happening so they can offer support
  4. Take notes/leave notes during the day as reminders of what needs done
  5. Keep a diary or journal to see if there is a pattern to when the symptoms are worse, (ex. when tired)

In summary, cancer and chemotherapy can affect memory and concentration for some patients.  To help improve these issues, try to reduce stress, participate in exercise and take notes to help manage the day.  Most patients see these symptoms improve slowly over time.  If a patient begins to develop any of these issues, they should discuss them with their health care provider to come up with a plan to manage the symptoms.  Hopefully, with the research being done on this topic, soon more will be known about the causes and possible ways to prevent and treat these issues in the future.




Coastal Cancer Center

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