Measuring The Length Of Chemo Brain
A study, conducted at the University of Illinois and published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, set out to investigate the effects of chemo brain over a longer period of time. For this purpose, the team designed a mouse model that will help researchers of the future investigate this problem and, potentially, rectify it.
The studys lead author, Catarina Rendeiro, worked with a group of researchers across the university, including Justin Rhodes, a psychology professor, and William Helferich, a professor of nutrition.
Quality of life after chemotherapy is critically important, and chemo brain is significant in these survivors.
Prof. William Helferich
Earlier research has shown that the intense physical toll of chemotherapy accounts for the short-term deficits in cognitive ability seen in chemo brain. As Prof. Rhodes says: The question is, after they completely recover from the acute assault of chemotherapy, many months or years later, do they still have cognitive impairments?
The researchers used a female mouse model designed to mimic post-menopausal women as closely as possible. To measure the potential long-term effects of chemo brain, they measured how chemotherapy impacted learning and memory. Additionally, they charted the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus a part of the brain important in memory, among other roles.
Mice subjected to chemotherapy were found to take substantially longer to learn the task.
Talk With Your Doctor Or Cancer Care Team
If brain problems cause trouble at work or school, or interfere with your usual activities, talk with your doctor to try and pinpoint whats causing your brain fog and what can be done about it. This is especially important for people with chemo brain that lasts longer than the treatment period and keeps causing trouble in their daily lives.
It helps a lot if you have a diary or log of the situations you have trouble with. It also helps to let your doctor know some of the things that make the problem worse or better. For instance, are they worse in the morning or evening? Do you have more trouble when you are hungry or tired? Does it help to nap, walk, or have a snack? Your doctor will want to know when the problems started and how they affect your daily life.
You may need to visit a larger hospital or cancer care center to find experts on testing brain function, including chemo brain. Ask if you can get a referral to one of these specialists who can help you learn the scope of your problem and work with you on ways to manage it. Youll want to find out what your insurance will cover before you start.
How Is It Diagnosed
Your doctor will listen to your symptoms and examine you. He or she may ask questions about when you notice problems with thinking and memory.
Your doctor will look for other causes of your problems. For example, medicines to treat pain or medicines that block estrogen can cause foggy thinking. Dehydration, stress, depression, and trouble sleeping also can affect thinking and memory.
If your symptoms are very bad, your doctor may want you to have tests to see if something else may be causing your problems.
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What Is Chemo Brain
Most define it as a decrease in mental sharpness and describe it as being unable to remember certain things and having trouble finishing tasks, concentrating on something, or learning new skills. Even though its exact cause isnt known, it can happen at any time when you have cancer.
These mental changes can make people unable to perform usual activities like school, work, or social activities. Or it can seem like it takes a lot of mental effort to do them. Many people don’t tell their cancer care team about their problems until it affects their everyday life. It’s important to get help and support, so be sure to let your cancer care team know if you notice any mental changes, no matter how small.
Here are some examples of what patients with chemo brain may experience:
- Forgetting things that they usually have no trouble remembering
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble remembering details like names, dates, and sometimes larger events
- Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one task
- Trouble learning new things
- Taking longer to finish things
- Trouble remembering common words
Is It Possible To Prevent Long
It is not always possible to prevent long-term side effects from chemotherapy. There is no way to tell precisely how therapy will affect any given individual.
Doctors may discuss the risk of long-term effects or permanent issues with a person to help them select the most suitable drugs and therapies.
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Future Treatments For Chemo Brain
Although it may be possible to design drugs to reduce the cognitive effects of chemotherapy, that would bring with it the worry that additional chemicals might interact with the chemotherapy itself, causing other unwanted effects or preventing it from working as it needs to.
Instead, the team hopes that natural interventions might be uncovered that can ward off the damage that results from chemo brain.
To that end, the researchers investigated whether a diet with additional omega-3-fatty acids might help reduce the cognitive impacts of chemotherapy on the mice. Unfortunately, this intervention did not yield significant results.
The current study is the first to produce an animal model demonstrating the long-term effects of chemotherapy on the brain. In the future, the team hopes that the model will be used to investigate other potential nutritional components and chart their effects on chemo brain.
When Do Cognitive Changes Occur
Cognitive changes can occur at any point during your experience with cancer. Sometimes they are the first sign of a brain tumor. These changes may also happen after completing cancer treatment or after taking certain medications.
- Chemo brain can occur during or after chemotherapy treatment.
- Delirium may occur suddenly during treatment. Delirium usually happens after an identified cause, such as chemotherapy, and it is often reversible.
- Dementia due to cancer treatment comes on gradually over time and usually after treatment is completed. It may be harder to identify than delirium, and it may not have one identifiable cause. Dementia can develop as early as three months after radiotherapy to the brain. It can also occur 48 months or longer after completion of radiation therapy.
- Symptoms of dementia can also occur after surgery to remove a brain tumor.
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Chemotherapy Drug Interactions And Side Effects
When looking at how best to combine chemo drugs, doctors must look at interactions between chemo drugs and other medicines the person is taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements. These interactions may make side effects worse and affect how well chemo drugs work.
Its important that you tell your doctor about all medicines, including over-the counter medicines, vitamins, herbal or dietary supplements you are taking even if you only take them as needed.
For instance, platelets help blood clot and prevent bleeding. Many chemo drugs lower the number of platelets for a time. Taking aspirin or other related drugs can also weaken blood platelets. This isnt a problem for healthy people with normal platelet counts, but if a person has low platelet counts from chemo, this combination might put them at risk of a serious bleeding problem.
Your doctor can talk with you about the safety of using other medicines, vitamins, and supplements while you are being treated for cancer.
Living With Cognitive Changes
How to Manage Cognitive Changes
- Take prescribed medication as prescribed by writing down the time and date when you take the medication, taking the medication at the same time every day, using a medication reminder or pill dispenser or asking someone to help you keep track, if necessary.
- Avoid dangerous activities if you are alone, such as cooking, using tools that could cause injury, driving and traveling to unfamiliar places.
- Ask your family to watch for safety issues.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep.
- Use a health journal to communicate symptoms and side effects of medicine with your health care team.
- Talk with your family and an attorney about legal documents you may need.
Whether cognitive changes will improve or be permanent depends on their cause. Acute cognitive changes that occur because of certain medicines often improve when you stop taking the medicine. Chronic changes are often not reversible. However, some medications may enhance cognitive function, or there may be some improvement if the cause of the problems can be corrected.
Correa, D.D. . Neurocognitive function in brain tumors. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 3 232-239.
Calabrese, P., & Schlegel, U. . Neurotoxicity of treatment. Resent Results in Cancer Research, 171: 165-174.
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Other Treatments That May Cause Chemo Brain
Additional research has found that other cancer treatmentssurgery, radiation and hormone therapy among themalso may lead to chemo brain, because they cause inflammation in the body. It is this secondary inflammation that seems to produce the cognitive symptoms, says Dr. Eugene Ahn, Medical Oncologist and Medical Director of Clinical Research at our hospital outside Chicago. Thats why many in the medical community consider chemo brain a misnomer, because chemotherapy is not its sole cause.
Researchers also reported that younger women, black women and those who report higher levels of anxiety and depression were more likely to experience greater declines in brain function. We also know that depression and anxiety can produce a vicious cycle with the cognitive symptoms since one of the causes of pseudodementia is depression, and breast cancer survivors are at greater risk for depression, says Dr. Ahn.
Chemo Brain: An Imprecise Term For A Complex Phenomenon
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The various cognitive impairments collectively known as chemo brain can cause anxiety, frustration and difficulty with everyday tasks for cancer survivors.
Despite what the term suggests, chemo brain and its associated mental changes are not necessarily related only to chemotherapy. Other cancer treatments also can have short- or long-term cognitive implications. Additionally, some changes in cognitive function may be associated with the cancer itself.
Ongoing research has been seeking to identify the mechanisms behind cancer-related cognitive decline, as well as ways to manage them.
The research community has been trying to answer this question for many years now,Lynne I. Wagner, PhD, professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said in an interview with Healio. It really is multifactorial. One of the pieces of this puzzle is that some people appear to be more affected than others. So, part of the challenge is in identifying the underlying mechanisms and subgroups of patients who are impacted.
A foggy sensation
Cancer-related cognitive impairment can manifest in many ways, but the most common symptoms include lack of focus, issues with verbal or visual memory, shortened attention span, difficulty multitasking and an overall feeling of fogginess.
The role of inflammation
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How Long Do Side Effects Last
Many side effects go away fairly quickly, but some might take months or even years to go away completely. These are called late effects.
Sometimes the side effects can last a lifetime, such as when chemo causes long-term damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, or reproductive organs. Certain types of chemo sometimes cause delayed effects, such as a second cancer that may show up many years later.
People often become discouraged about how long their treatment lasts or the side effects they have. If you feel this way, talk to your cancer care team. You may be able to change your medicine or treatment schedule. They also may be able to suggest ways to reduce any pain and discomfort you have.
Top 7 Ways To Help Recover From Chemo Brain
Doesnt it feel like Chemo Brain will never go away? While it may feel like dealing with Chemo Brain is helpless, these are the top 7 ways which may help to recover and help to alleviate some of these symptoms.
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Can Cancer Go Away On Its Own
Yes, Caner can go away on its own, but its not that simple. While cancer can in fact just disappear for no explainable reason, it is extremely rare. The chances of cancer disappearing with no treatment, are about 1 in 80,000 to about 1 in 100,000. These are the best estimates we have at the moment. Surprisingly, those are better odds then getting hit by lightning which is about 1 in 700,000.Case reports of patients experiencing the disappearance of cancer have been documented for decades. While the exact cause is unknown, case reports at least prove cancer disappearing is in fact a real thing.
How Long Does It Last
Often, the fogginess will fade when your chemo ends. But for some people, the fuzzy feelings will linger for several months or sometimes a year or more.
For those with lasting symptoms, researchers are looking at medicines for diseases like depression, ADHD, Alzheimerâs, and other types of dementia. But more testing needs to be done.
If you have chemo brain that persists and youâve tried all the self-help tips, talk with a neuropsychologist. This is a doctor who specializes in the brain and can help with attention span and memory. They will find areas where you need help and tell you if other treatable problems like depression, anxiety, and fatigue are to blame.
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When To Call Your Cancer Care Team About Chemo Side Effects
Because your cancer care team will give you lots of information about side effects, you might be more aware of physical changes. Do not take any physical symptoms you have lightly. Some side effects are short-lived and minor, but others may be a sign of serious problems. Make sure you know how to reach someone on your team any time, including after hours, weekends, and holidays.
Contact your cancer care team right away if you have any of the following symptoms during chemo treatment:
- A fever higher than what your cancer care team has instructed
- Bleeding or unexplained bruising
Chemo Brain Caused By Malfunction In Three Types Of Brain Cells
Three types of cells in the brains white matter show interwoven problems during the cognitive dysfunction that follows treatment with the cancer drug methotrexate, Stanford neuroscientists have found.
Michelle Monje and her colleagues found that the chemotherapy drug methotrexate can affect three major types of brain cells, resulting in a phenomenon known as “chemo brain.”Steve Fisch
More than half of cancer survivors suffer from cognitive impairment from chemotherapy that lingers for months or years after the cancer is gone. In a new study explaining the cellular mechanisms behind this condition, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have demonstrated that a widely used chemotherapy drug, methotrexate, causes a complex set of problems in three major cell types within the brains white matter.
The study, which was published online Dec. 6 in Cell, also identifies a potential remedy. A drug now in clinical trials for other indications reversed symptoms of chemo brain, as the condition is known, in a mouse model, the researchers found.
Its wonderful that theyre alive, but their quality of life is really suffering, said the studys lead author, Erin Gibson, PhD, a research scientist at Stanford. If we can do anything to improve that, there is a huge population that could benefit.
Chemo brain is especially severe in childhood cancer patients, Monje added, and children have the most to gain from better remedies.
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What Can You Do To Cope
It can be frightening to have chemo brain, especially during what is already a stressful time. Here are some ideas that may help you cope with this problem.
- Take care of yourself.
- Try to relax to reduce your stress. Meditate, or do yoga or another relaxing activity.
- Try to be patient with yourself. The problem may go away with time.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Be as physically active as you can. But check with your doctor to make sure that you don’t do too much too soon.
- Keep your brain active by reading and doing puzzles, games, or crosswords.