Archive for the Cancer Category

Chemo Brain Research

Posted in Cancer, Cancer / Chemo Brain Sites, Chemo Brain, Chemotherapy, Health with tags , , , on 02/03/2009 by milkywayfarer

What Is Chemo Brain and
What Causes It?

By Susan Chandler Kelley

Copyright 2009; do not reprint without permission

Many cancer survivors who received chemotherapy suffer from memory loss, inability to concentrate, and problems with cognition and comprehension. Over time, this range of symptoms gained the name of ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog.’ For some survivors, these symptoms endure only for a few months or a year, but others suffer much longer.

A nine-year cancer/chemo survivor myself, I still live with chemo brain. My oncologist thought depression caused these mental symptoms. Yet even after antidepressants got the depression under control, chemo brain still flourished.

For years this syndrome stymied medical professonals. A recent WebMD article stated: “Until recently, doctors told cancer patients who developed memory loss, seizures, vision problems, and dementia that their ailments — collectively dubbed “chemo brain” — resulted from treatment-related fatigue, depression, and anxiety.” (1)

About five years ago, while searching WebMD for info on breast cancer survival, a link popped up. The link led me to an article about breast cancer survivors who suffered from the same cognitive difficulties I had experienced. This article referred to these difficulties as ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog,’ the first time I had ever heard those terms. Researchers ran MRIs on these women as they received their chemo treatments. The MRIs vividly portrayed changes in the brains of these women during their chemo.

This article offered the first proof I had ever found that chemo brain was real and that medical professionals finally acknowledged it and tried to determine its cause. Since chemotherapy consists of chemicals that kill cells (many healthy cells along with the cancerous ones), it makes sense to me that chemo could literally cause such changes in the brain. It also makes sense to me that such ‘brain change’ could result in chemo brain symptoms. Oddly enough, this information relieved me intensely. I was not ‘losing my mind,’ as I had feared.

Many professionals in the  cancer field now accept chemo brain as a reality. Further research has uncovered more information on its possible causes. “Reporting in the April 22 issue of Journal of Biology, researcher Mark Noble, PhD, director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute, links the drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) to extensive damage among specific groups of cells in the central nervous system…” (1)  5-FU is a common chemotherapy drug.

A different article discusses this same study of the chemo drug 5-FU. This second article indicates the mice in the study suffered damage to the cells which produce myelin. Myelin “coats the nerves and helps them transmit signals to and from the brain. Large areas of the mice’s brains didn’t have enough myelin.” (2)

This study, carried out by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York State, US, and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, US, was published in the Journal of Biology. This study suggests that such myelin deficiency could account for the cognitive problems known as chemo brain.

However, even if chemotherapy actually causes chemo brain, that does not mean one should avoid chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a long-standing treatment for various forms of cancer and has helped transform many cancer victims into cancer survivors such as myself. Even with the loss of cognitive abilities I have suffered due to chemo brain, that is an infinitesimal price to pay to be alive today, nine years after.


1. “Treatment Ends, ‘Chemo Brain’ Lingers,” WebMD Health News; Kelli Miller Stacy (Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD); April 21, 2008

2.  “Does chemotherapy cause memory loss?”; BMJ Group; April 25, 2008
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Chemo Brain Symptoms

Posted in Cancer, Cancer / Chemo Brain Sites, Chemo Brain, Chemotherapy, Health with tags , , , on 01/10/2009 by milkywayfarer

Where, oh where, has my little brain gone?

By Susan Chandler Kelley

Copyright 2009; do not reprint without permission

I’m listening to Jackson Browne’s “Next Voice You Hear” (which my loving hubby of 25 years is playing on the stereo).  I’ve always enjoyed Browne’s music. Not only was he a soundtrack to my misspent 70’s youth, <GRIN>  but he often managed to voice angst in a non-whiny way-it-is voice. As I listen, I ponder  chemo brain.

Pre -BigC, I sometimes moved thru an undefined existential fog. Post-BigC, I often moved thru a more defined fog. I know what is important; I just have trouble voicing it in an understandable manner sometimes. Such is the legacy of chemo fog, chemo brain, or as I often felt – chemo stupidity.   :-p

Previously I had been a fairly literate, knowledgable person with the capacity to voice my ideas in a cogent manner. Post-BigC – not so much. At the time, the askance, poor-demented-soul glances I often got from others fell at my feet like so many rotted banana-peels – unnoticed till you slipped on them.

I knew something was wrong; I felt like someone had flipped the “stupid switch.” I just didn’t know who/what flipped it or why/how. I mentioned it (often) to my oncologist – a wonderful doctor who I resoundingly recommend. She felt it was the result of the depression that exploded into my life after the diagnosis. However, tho’ the antidepressant  greatly helped the depression, it did nothing to assuage the feeling that I had somehow misplaced my mind.    >:-(

For someone who had grown up as the bookworm geekorama of the Class of 75, this seemed like the ultimate unfairness of cancer – as if cancer ever played fair. Now, 9 years later, the mental decline has finally stopped. Yet I have not regained the lost mental ability  – it simply stopped getting worse. I started researching it on the Net and happened  on a link from WebMD. My secret curse finally had a name: chemo brain.

There are  several articles about it, which I will discuss in a later post. The main points of these articles are these: It seems to be caused by chemotherapy in some way; studies have been done on breast cancer patients using MRIs which show that the brain undergoes changes (damage?) during chemo treatments; nearly all of those who undergo such chemo treatments suffer problems with memory, concentration, and cognition. Don’t get me wrong: If  I had it all to do over, I’d still take the chemo. Better a live ‘stupid-head’ than a deadhead. LOL Also, there’s something to be said for wholesale forgetting: I forgot some things that needed forgetting. As for the rest, I can always get loved ones to help me remember what I need (and want) to remember.

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