Chemobrain is a term that refers to the difficulties some cancer survivors experience in cognition and thinking.
Some examples might include not remembering the name of a new person you just met or not remembering to get milk at the grocery store when that is what you went for specifically. As we age, these types of memory errors are common. However, when they get in the way of completing normal, everyday tasks there may be some cause for concern.
Not everyone who is diagnosed with cancer will develop chemobrain.
At this time it is difficult to predict who will experience cognitive difficulties. In addition, the name “chemobrain” implies that it is chemotherapy that causes cognitive problems, but there are a number of additional factors that are also responsible for problems with memory and thinking. Some examples are stress of a cancer diagnosis, fatigue, pain, hormone and steroid medications, depression, and anxiety.
There are ways to alleviate some of the difficulties in cognition after cancer. First, talk to your doctor about feelings of depression or anxiety. Also, sleep and rest are important for many reasons after a cancer diagnosis and it will also help cognition.
If you feel like your memory and thinking is not normal for you, talk to your doctor about further options for assessing these difficulties with a neuropsychologist.
Watch this video interview with Dr. Patty ‘O Brien and Julie Dumas to learn more about chemobrain.
Julie Dumas, Ph. D. is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit at the University of Vermont. She got her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002 and her B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1996.