'Chemobrain' linked to disrupted brain networks

by Julia Evangelou Strait
‘Chemobrain’ linked to disrupted brain networks
Research in breast cancer patients may shed light on “chemobrain,” the mental fogginess that some cancer patients experience following treatment. New imaging studies show disruptions in brain networks of patients who experience chemobrain. Credit: B.L. SCHLAGGAR AND R.S. COALSON

(Medical Xpress)—For some cancer patients, the mental fogginess that develops with chemotherapy lingers long after treatment ends. Now research in breast cancer patients may offer an explanation. 

Patients who experience "chemobrain" following treatment for show disruptions in brain networks that are not present in patients who do not report , according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Results of the small study were reported Thursday, Dec. 12 at a poster presentation at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

According to the researchers, many breast who receive chemotherapy report long-term problems with memory, attention, learning, visual-spatial skills and other forms of information processing. The brain mechanisms contributing to these difficulties are poorly understood.

The investigators used an imaging technique called resting state functional-connectivity (rs-fcMRI) to assess the wiring among regions of the brain in 28 patients treated at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University. Fifteen patients reported they were "extremely" or "strongly" affected by cognitive difficulties. The remaining 13 reported no cognitive impairment.

The imaging studies suggest that standard chemotherapy given to may alter connectivity in , especially in the frontal parietal control regions responsible for executive function, attention and decision-making.

"Chemobrain is most likely a global phenomenon in the brain, but a set of regions involved in executive control, called the frontal-parietal network, is perhaps the most affected brain system," said Jay F. Piccirillo, MD, professor of otolaryngology and a member of the research team with expertise in the use of brain imaging to study tinnitus, or phantom noise. "We're confirming previous studies that also have shown this. And we're developing a solid multidisciplinary working group at Washington University to determine how we can help these women."

Other studies also have used neuroimaging techniques to observe the neural disruptions associated with Alzheimer's disease, depression and stroke. Washington University researchers are beginning to investigate whether cancer patients experiencing chemobrain may benefit from therapies similar to those that help patients with other cognitive disorders.

Related Stories

Chemotherapy alters brain tissue in breast cancer patients

Sep 29, 2010

Researchers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center have published the first report using imaging to show that changes in brain tissue can occur in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Recommended for you

Immune checkpoint inhibitors may work in brain cancers

Nov 21, 2014

New evidence that immune checkpoint inhibitors may work in glioblastoma and brain metastases was presented today by Dr Anna Sophie Berghoff at the ESMO Symposium on Immuno-Oncology 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland.

New model of follow up for breast cancer patients

Nov 21, 2014

Public health researchers from the University of Adelaide have evaluated international breast cancer guidelines, finding that there is potential to improve surveillance of breast cancer survivors from both a patient and health ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.