Chemotherapy Enhances Cognitive Dysfunction Found in Cancer Patients, Stanford Study Says

It’s very rare that a woman will not know anything about breast cancer, one of the most dreaded cancers that ever exists to torture women on the face of the earth. But have you ever heard of the term “chemo brain”?

It’s a term fondly used by people in the medical and health fields to refer to a state by which chemo patients get into after their usual chemotherapy treatment. Chemo brain is characterized by –

  • Short-term memory impairment
  • Confusion
  • Mental fatigue
  • Difficulty with verbal communication/forming words
  • Disorganization
  • Difficulty learning new skills
  • Shortened attention span
  • Taking a long time to complete tasks

The Mayo Clinic previously asserted that it is unlikely that chemotherapy is the only cause of memory and concentration problems in cancer survivors. However, recent research somehow link the non-brain tumor neurological abnormalities among breast cancer patients with chemotherapy treatments.

The Celebrated Stanford Study

It was the Stanford University study conducted in 2011 and supported by the National Institutes of Health which made the connection between breast cancer patients who had chemotherapy and surgery and its effects on cognitive decline. The researchers also compared the findings from the breast cancer patients who had chemo and surgery with two groups of women who haven’t had breast cancer.

After MRI results and self-evaluations were conducted, the Stanford study found a direct connection between women who went through chemotherapy and certain kinds of cognitive difficulty. The researchers discovered that chemo treatments reduced functionality in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that governs cognitive behavior, social behavior and decision-making. In card-sorting tasks the women who had chemo treatments made more errors and took longer to complete their tasks compared to other women in the other groups.

“Cancer patients may have brain changes, but the changes don’t necessarily impact them functionally,” said Dr. Shelli Kesler, Stanford assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and lead author of the study. But, D. Kesler said, “When you add chemotherapy to that, the changes are so severe that the patients can’t compensate for it anymore.”

Findings of the team showed that patients who received chemotherapy had “significantly reduced activation” in two parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for working memory, monitoring, conrol and other functions.

Chemotherapy Exacerbates Cognitive Dysfunction Found in Cancer Patients

The Stanford study proves that chemotherapy aggravates cancer-induced brain dysfunction. It adds strength through hard evidence to previous studies that chemotherapy does have an effect on the mental health and cognitive functions of cancer patients. Whether this effect is only short-term or long-term still needs to be further explored.

“This shows that when a patient reports she’s struggling with these types of problems, there’s a good chance there has been a brain change,” Kesler reported in the Stanford Medical News Center.

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