Research into ‘chemobrain’ making progress


In the most recent issue of Cure, AHCJ member Elaine Schattner, M.D., examines “chemobrain,” a term used to describe cognitive changes that some patients experience during and after a chemotherapy regimen.

Schattner interviewed medical professionals and cancer survivors to shed light on “chemobrain,” which isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. She cites several studies that link cognitive decline to both chemo and hormone therapies in men and women.

It took decades for research on chemobrain to gain traction, says Tim Ahles, PhD, a behavioral psychologist who leads the neurocognitive research lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Ahles says investigators have had a tough time applying science to cancer patients with such a range of cognitive complaints and diverse diagnoses. In addition, patients often suffer from accompanying problems, such as anemia, pain, depression and other illnesses that can affect brain function.

Another doctor who has been studying the condition acknowledges that patient advocacy has helped move the research forward. But research is hindered by variations in the forms, doses and regimens of chemo, as well as “the fact that the condition lacks a precise definition and has a variety of symptoms that are subjective and vague.”

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Chelsea Reynolds