Breast cancer survivors that have undergone chemotherapy may suffer from cognitive impairments after treatment for up to a year. “Chemo brain” entails memory loss and trouble concentrating. A new study coming from the University of Rochester’s Wilmot Cancer Institute found that “chemo brain” is very common among breast cancer patients and lasts at least six months and, sometimes, up to 12 months, according to the publication PsychCentral.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Prior research has not gone far enough in understanding “chemo brain” including when and why it happens as well as who has a higher likelihood of developing the side effect.
The researchers analyzed the cognitive abilities of 581 breast cancer patients around the United States and compared the results to 364 healthy, cancer-free individuals. All participants had a mean age of 53 years old.
To determine the cognitive capability of breast cancer patients, researchers used a technological tool called the FACT-Cog, which evaluates a person’s perceived notion of cognitive impairment as well as the same impairment noticed by others. The researchers also controlled for factors like age, education, race, and menopausal status.
The study showed that women who were breast cancer survivors illustrated 45 percent higher levels of impairment as compared to the healthier counterparts in the control group. Across an entire year post-treatment, 36.5 percent of participants in the experimental group had a decline in their scores from the FACT-Cog tool while only 13.6 percent of women in the healthier group showed the same results.
“Our study, from one of the largest nationwide studies to date, shows that cancer-related cognitive problems are a substantial and pervasive issue for many women with breast cancer,” Michelle C. Janelsins, Assistant Professor of Surgery in Wilmot’s Cancer Control and Survivorship program, said in a public statement.
“We are currently assessing these data in the context of objective cognitive measures and to understand the role of possible biologic mechanisms that may confer risk to cognitive problems in patients,” she said.
Some other factors besides chemotherapy that may play a role in overall cognitive scores through the FACT-Cog platform include age, race, anxiety, and depression. Those with significant levels of depression and/or anxiety had worse scores regarding their cognitive abilities. Identical results were seen in women who had chemotherapy by itself as compared to women who were treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.
“Chemo brain” involves memory loss, attention difficulties, and problems with processing data and written or spoken information. Breast cancer survivors with “chemo brain” may have trouble learning new skills or finishing tasks, according to Medical News Today. Some of these problems may be so subtle that patients do not share it with their oncologists until it starts to impact their everyday life.
Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer need to understand their risks and potential side effects of chemotherapy treatment as well as radiation, surgeries, and hormonal therapies. To prevent a more significant impact of “chemo brain,” breast cancer survivors should consider taking part in meditation, yoga, reading, checkers or chess, and other mental games.