Along with chemotherapy’s well-documented side effects of nausea and fatigue, cancer patients also complain about a type of brain fog that sets in clouding their memory, judgement, and cognitive abilities. But a new study presented Friday at a breast cancer conference in San Antonio suggests that the condition -- called “chemobrain” -- may not always be due to the drugs but to the stress and anxiety that comes from receiving the diagnosis and fears of impending treatment.
University of Michigan researchers came to this conclusion after performing brain scans on 28 breast cancer patients before and soon after chemotherapy and comparing them to brain scans in a similar number of patients undergoing radiation treatments as well as a healthy control group. They found that the breast cancer patients facing chemotherapy have higher levels of fatigue before the treatment and performed less accurately on verbal memory tests compared to the two other groups; they also had less activation on the MRI scans in certain areas of their brain needed to perform those memory tests.
Those women receiving radiation had more fatigue and cognitive difficulties before and after treatment -- that were also associated with less brain activity in certain regions -- compared to the healthy controls.