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Update: New research sheds light on "chemobrain"

February 01, 2007


New research sheds light on "chemobrain"

Many people undergoing chemotherapy complain of problems with memory, attention, and concentration — a phenomenon called "chemobrain" or "chemo fog." When we first wrote about chemobrain in October 2002, most of what was known of it came from the anecdotal reports of patients, often breast cancer survivors, and a few studies linking chemotherapy (but not surgery or radiation) to cognitive problems.

Researchers suggested potential explanations, including the sudden chemotherapy-induced onset of menopause, multiple medications — perhaps in combination with age-related changes in the brain — or brain damage from high doses of chemotherapy drugs. Subsequent research has shown that not all chemotherapy recipients have trouble with mental function, but for those who do, the effect can last several years. Thus far, a physiological explanation for chemotherapy-related cognitive trouble has remained elusive. But two studies may help fill in the gap.

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