April 09, 2012
By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN
Recently a colleague at work who had just returned from a getting a haircut mentioned to me that his hairdresser, who has lung cancer, was upset because her husband was very worried about her. The hairdresser explained that she had started having some memory problems - couldn't remember what she did yesterday or couldn't remember people's names. And she had started to tell her husband something and stopped in the middle of her story - not remembering what to say next. She too acknowledged being a little concerned and was seeing her doctor in 3 days, but she didn't know how to help her husband until then. I asked if she was receiving chemotherapy and was told yes, so I explained that she might have "chemo brain."
We've known for some time that radiation therapy to the brain can cause problems with thinking and memory. Now, we are learning that chemotherapy is linked to some of the same kinds of problems. Research has shown that some chemotherapy agents can cause certain kinds of changes in the brain. Though the brain usually recovers over time, the sometimes vague yet distressing mental changes cancer patients notice are real, not imagined. These changes can make people unable to go back to their school, work, or social activities, or make it so that it takes a lot of mental effort to do so. These changes affect everyday life for many people receiving cancer treatment. More...