A new study shows that “chemo brain” is a real, and fairly common, side effect of chemotherapy treatment.
While other side effects like fatigue, hair loss, and extreme nausea are often talked about, chemo brain is not. The condition, until recently, have been widely controversial among the medical community.
For Yolanda Hunter, 41, a former hospice nurse who was diagnosed with breast cancer, the effects of chemo brain are very real, reports NPR. Hunter stated:
“I could think of words I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to say … there was a disconnect from my brain to my mouth.”
Hunter was known for leading a busy and active lifestyle, but, following her chemotherapy treatments, she recalled, “I couldn’t even formulate a smile. I had no expression.”
ABC News notes that the effects of chemo brain include mental dullness, memory, information processing, and mood. The condition was largely ignored by health care professionals, leaving cancer survivors who suffered with it to be left without any answers.
However, many women who suffered from chemo brain have taken to the internet through web chatting and blogging, discovering for the first time that they weren’t alone in their chemo side effects.
According to Jame Abraham, an oncologist and professor at West Virginia University, stated that about one-fourth of patients who undergo chemotherapy suffer from chemo brain symptoms like short-term memory and focusing their attention.
They used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brain for blood flow and brain activity. Abraham took brain scans of patients before they started chemotherapy and then again six months later. He noted seeing a significant decrease in brain activity in the second scan in areas related to memory, attention, planning, and prioritizing.
Abraham states that chemotherapy “can cause damage to bone marrow, hair cells mucosa. In the same way, it can potentially cause changes in the brain cells too.” The findings bring up additional questions about who can be effected by chemo brain and whether it is a result of the chemotherapy, the cancer cells, a combination of the two, or even something else entirely.
Thankfully, while the effects of chemo brain can be incredibly difficult to deal with, they are most always temporary. The patient usually regains his or her full cognitive abilities about one or two years after they stop chemotherapy treatments.