In the Fog with Chemo Brain

Cancer treatments are known to cause anemia, fatigue, and digestive distress, among other side effects, but what about the phenomenon of “Chemo Brain”?

Chemo brain, or chemo fog, is often described as a mental fog or cloudiness that affects people’s ability to concentrate and think clearly following chemotherapy treatment. These symptoms sometimes appear during treatment, as patients struggle with memory loss, confusion, difficulty with spatial orientation and even impaired math, language, and organizational skills.

While studies point to greater dysfunction linked to higher doses of chemotherapy, the origin of this dysfunction is not fully understood. Scientists consider several possible mechanisms to be the cause of the cognitive changes associated with chemotherapy treatments. The drugs may have direct neurotoxic effects on the brain or may indirectly trigger an inflammatory reaction in the brain caused by an immunological response.

Researchers are studying various interventions to counteract these cognitive impairments. One study has tested the effectiveness of a cognitive-behavior therapy following chemotherapy in women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. After the intervention, these women showed significant improvements in verbal and decision-making abilities and reported subjective improvements in cognitive function and quality of life.

Other studies have investigated the use of antioxidants to improve memory function. It has been shown that chemotherapy can produce free radicals, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients carried to the brain by the blood, as well as cause inflammation of brain tissue. In a preclinical study published in the journal, Metabolic Brain Disease, memory deficiency was prevented in rats administered the antioxidant, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), during the course of chemotherapeutic treatment.