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Women recount their experiences with 'chemo brain,' and researchers take note

September 21, 2009 | 11:38 am


Once a little-discussed side effect of cancer treatment, the mental fogginess known as chemo brain is finally getting the attention it deserves. Now researchers at Mayo Medical School and UCLA offer a closer look at breast cancer survivors' experiences with the condition.

Their new study, "Confronting chemobrain: an in-depth look at survivors’ reports of impact on work, social networks, and health care response," is published in the September issue of Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

The introduction states: "An increasing number of women survive breast cancer. Of the 11.4 million cancer survivors in the United States alone, female breast cancer survivors represent the largest population at 23%, or 2.6 million women. However, survival may come at a cost for some, as biomedical researchers have begun to acknowledge that cancer treatment itself (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) can result in long-term physiological damage, which in turn can vastly impact quality of life."

One woman described her experience in this way: "You have to fight to make yourself remember numbers,
words, places that you go. Sometimes I would leave the house to go somewhere and I really couldn’t remember how to get there… it almost made me break down because of the fact that you think you’re losing your mind."

The New York Times' Jane Brody recently offered her take on two new books about chemo brain: “Chemobrain” (Prometheus Books), by Ellen Clegg, a Boston Globe editor, and “Your Brain After Chemo” (Da Capo Press), by Dr. Daniel H. Silverman, a researcher at UCLA, and Idelle Davidson, a journalist and former breast cancer patient.

And the American Cancer Society offers these tips on managing chemo brain. They may not be a cure, but increased attention will likely lead to greater understanding of how to reduce the condition's severity.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Chemotherapy drugs -- powerful and problematic.

Credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

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Comments (1)

I've been through chemo twice. It hasn't caused me a supergreat problem with numbers - I can still do math (albeit slower than previously). However, it seemed to have put a large kink in the connection with nouns and names. I can describe the thing I'm trying to name, but can't remember the name. It's not the adjectives or adverbs that were affected, just nouns. I was trying to remember the name of an actor yesterday and I could remember several of the movies he's appeared in, but couldn't get his name to the tip of my tongue. Fortunately, my friends and family have learned to cope with the verbal charades.


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