So-called "chemo brain" -- problems with thinking, concentrating and remembering that are associated with receiving chemotherapy -- may actually start to occur before the treatment is initiated, a small new study suggests. In the new study, pre-treatment mental fog and fatigue were associated with thought-process problems (also called "cognitive" problems) that have previously been assumed to be directly related to the treatment.
"It's hard not to believe that chemotherapy could damage the brain, but we found evidence of the problems occurring in many women even before the therapy had begun," said lead author Bernadine Cimprich, associate professor emerita at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.
The researchers tested 97 women, including 65 who had localized breast cancer and 32 healthy women without cancer. The women with cancer had all had surgery, while 28 were going to receive chemotherapy and 37 were going to receive radiation therapy. Before treatment and a month after treatment was begun, the participants performed a verbal memory task during functional MRI brain imaging and reported on their fatigue levels.
Women who underwent chemotherapy performed less accurately on the mental task tests both before treatment and after treatment. They also reported a higher level of fatigue. Why did the women anticipating chemotherapy show a greater incidence of chemo brain than did those who were awaiting radiation therapy? "Anticipation of toxic side effects may increase the burden of distress," Cimprich said. (USNews)