Chemobrain -- the flip side of surviving cancer

September 17, 2009

One of the most problematic side effects of cancer treatment, chemobrain - a range of symptoms including memory loss, inability to concentrate, difficulty thinking and other subtle cognitive changes following chemotherapy - seriously diminishes women's quality of life and daily functioning. As a result, they have to adopt a range of coping strategies to manage their restricted social and professional lives.

Breast cancer survivors tell their story in a descriptive study of the effects that cognitive impairment has on women's work, social networks and dealings with the health care profession. Dr. Saskia Subramanian from the UCLA Center for Culture and Health in the US and her colleagues have just published their work online in Springer's Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

An increasing number of women survive , yet survival comes at a price. following chemotherapy, known as "chemobrain" or "chemofog" is one of the most commonly reported post-treatment symptoms by breast cancer survivors. Dr. Subramanian and colleagues' work shows that this deterioration in has devastating effects on breast cancer survivors' quality of life.

Through a combination of focus groups and in-depth interviews among 74 women who had completed their course of cancer treatment at least a year earlier, the researchers gathered data on patients' medical background, treatment experience, post-treatment symptoms, reactions from medical staff and from family and friends, self-management, strength of social networks and their perceptions of themselves.

The women described a variety of cognitive changes which they found both frustrating and upsetting. Some were less able to retain material or to digest new information and recognized that they were not functioning as they once did. Others faced reduced independence, becoming limited in their ability to manage certain responsibilities or get around. These changes made women feel scared, dependent and emotionally drained. For some, coping meant having to cut back on work and social activities. Others had more or less accepted the limitations put on their lives and resigned themselves to a diminished cognitive capacity.

The majority of women complained about the lack of acknowledgement from the medical community when they mentioned their chemobrain symptoms. Many women wished they had received some warning and only a few got answers from their physicians. Some felt that chemobrain confused their families and friends, and young children in particular.

Chemobrain also affected women's performance at work. Because they were less able to focus, duties became more difficult and often took longer. This affected their efficiency and reduced their chances of promotion or assignment to projects.

The authors conclude: "These data underscore the very serious ways in which chemobrain can affect the life experiences of cancer survivors - emotionally, psychologically and economically. A clear understanding of the cognitive impairments experienced by survivors will aid researchers in developing targeted therapies and interventions aimed at improving or mitigating these post-treatment side effects."

More information: Boykoff N, Moieni M, Subramanian S (2009). Confronting chemobrain: an in-depth look at survivors' reports of impact on work, social networks, and health care response. Journal of Cancer Survivorship; DOI: 10.1007/s11764-009-0098-x

Source: Springer

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers develop test that can diagnose two cancer types

December 12, 2017
A blood test using infrared spectroscopy can be used to diagnose two types of cancer, lymphoma and melanoma, according to a study led by Georgia State University.

Cancer-causing mutation suppresses immune system around tumours

December 12, 2017
Mutations in 'Ras' genes, which drive 25% of human cancers by causing tumour cells to grow, multiply and spread, can also protect cancer cells from the immune system, finds a new study from the Francis Crick Institute and ...

Atoh1, a potential Achilles' heel of Sonic Hedgehog medulloblastoma

December 12, 2017
Medulloblastoma is the most common type of solid brain tumor in children. Current treatments offer limited success and may leave patients with severe neurological side effects, including psychiatric disorders, growth retardation ...

Drug suppresses spread of breast cancer caused by stem-like cells

December 12, 2017
Rare stem-like tumor cells play a critical role in the spread of breast cancer, but a vulnerability in the pathway that powers them offers a strategy to target these cells using existing drugs before metastatic disease occurs, ...

MRI scans predict patients' ability to fight the spread of cancer

December 12, 2017
A simple, non-invasive procedure that can indicate how long patients with cancer that has spread to the brain might survive and whether they are likely to respond to immunotherapy has been developed by researchers in Liverpool.

Scientists discover possible master switch for programming cancer immunotherapy

December 11, 2017
During infection or tumor growth, a type of specialized white blood cells called CD8+ T cells rapidly multiply within the spleen and lymph nodes and acquire the ability to kill diseased cells. Some of these killer T cells ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
Sep 18, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gdpawel
not rated yet Sep 22, 2009
It's good to see the resurgence of chemotherapy side effect research. They need to help raise consciousness about the subject of Chemo Brain. All those cancer patients ignored or just plain ridiculed all these years.

Chemo Brain is part of the language now and just to have it acknowledged makes a difference. The choice of researchers to integrate promising insights and methods remains an essential component of new paradigms of cancer treatment.

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.