Medically Reviewed by Stewart A. Sharp, MD
Researchers are finding many ways to help deduce or eliminate side effects of cancer chemotherapy. One of chemotherapy’s side effects still escapes the researchers, according to McLeod Seacoast Oncologist Stewart Sharp, MD. Yet, there are ways to help the patient:
Here is an overview of Dr. Sharp’s comments:
“Chemobrain” refers to a syndrome that develop in patients, who are exposed to chemotherapy or who have cancer. They have problems with memory, mental functioning and performing complicated tasks. As a result, these people are not as capable intellectually as normal, at least for some interval of time after they’ve been treated.
It was really patients that brought this to the attention of oncologists over a period of years. It was very difficult to study, because it wasn’t like identifying a particular chemical substance in the blood. It was only with the development of psychological and mental testing that we could see or measure evidence of the changes that occur. It’s very complicated and the exact nature of the change really isn’t understood even now.
Recently there was a study done using a variety of visual tasks. There is a series of mental tests or exercise that can be done. It’s fairly effective in limiting the complication of chemobrain. The study uses some readily available methodology that must be done pretty frequently, (4 days a week for 40 minutes for a period of about four months). It does seem to be effective in limiting the problems.
A patient’s dealing with chemobrain requires most a matter of organization. Write things down, notes to yourself. Establish methods of organizing your life. Reach out to family and friends. Tell them if you’re having problems. They’ll be able to recognize those difficulties and help you through them.
Chemobrain is unusual because not only does it occur while the patient take chemotherapy but it can actually last for months or even years after the chemotherapy. Chemobrain is probably made worse by other changes, particularly psychological changes, anxiety and mood changes that occur with the development of cancer. All of those elements are involved in the entity that we call chemobrain.
I think now the technology that they have for actually treating patients — even while they’re taking chemotherapy — has substantially reduced the risks associated with it. It doesn’t prevent it entirely but it does treat it and does make it substantially better. I think it makes the recovery much more rapid.