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What are the Causes of Chemo Brain?

What are the Causes of Chemo Brain?

Chemo brain is an umbrella term for the different side effects that cancer patients may have to deal with post their treatment. These side effects are related to the cognitive function of the patients. This article gives you an explanation on what causes chemo brain, and what is done for its treatment...
Rajib Singha
Last Updated: Jan 21, 2018
Also referred to as 'chemo fog', chemo brain is basically a side effect that occurs post chemo treatment in cancer patients. Some experts also regard it as a cognitive dysfunction. The symptoms which characterize this condition include abnormalities with the cognitive function of the person, which is manifested by confusion, being disorganized, difficulty in learning new skills, problems with recalling past incidents, fatigue, and mental fogginess. The rest of the article will help you understand about the possible causes of this condition.
Factors That May Result in Chemo Fog
Before we come to the possible causes of this condition, it is important to understand that the concept of 'chemo brain' is not an established condition or disease in mainstream medicine. This is because medical experts have not been able to give a clear explanation on how chemotherapy can cause such problems with the mental function in cancer patients. There have been cases where doctors have come across patients, who despite having memory problems, did fairly well in tests conducted to study the pattern of their cognitive ability.
Speaking of the causes, chemo brain can be regarded to be idiopathic in nature, as experts have not been able to determine the exact causes behind its onset. They have been able to, however, identify some triggers which may contribute to the same. Experts believe that different cancer treatments may lead to the dysfunctional cognitive behavior seen in cancer patients. These treatment procedures, besides chemotherapy, may include radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. Even procedures such as stem cell replacement, hormone therapy, and surgery may act as triggers.
According to experts, the drugs which are used in cancer treatment are not only harmful to the cancerous tissues, but to the healthy tissues of the brain as well. What they believe is that even standard dosages of chemotherapy drugs can be responsible for causing long-term brain damage. However, such speculations could not be backed up by any medical evidences till date.
Cancer treatment may leave the patient vulnerable to suffer from complications which may include anemia, infection, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and sleep disorders. All such complications may interfere with normal brain function and cause chemo fog. Some patients may develop abnormal anxiety or suffer from depression after having undergone cancer treatment. Such abnormal emotional reactions may also be included in the list of the triggers of this condition.
Treatment Plan
No cure has yet been developed for this condition. However, in most people it stays for a temporary period only, and that is why the treatment is focused on managing the ongoing symptoms of memory problems until they subside or improve. Because the symptoms may be highly varying from person to person, treatment is conducted in a way that is best suited for the individual. As far as medications are concerned, none have been specifically approved for the treatment of chemo brain. However, depending upon the patient's condition, his/her doctor may choose to administer certain medications after weighing the benefits over the risks involved.
Apart from medications, patients are advised to follow certain steps to be able to cope with the alterations of their memory. These may include:
  • Jotting down information or keeping journals.
  • Performing exercises that help to improve memory and thinking power
  • Asking people to repeat information
  • Making use of a daily organizer for doing tasks in a systematic order.
  • Playing games such as crossword puzzles
  • Indulging in relaxation techniques, which provide a great deal of help in reducing mental and as well as physical stress. Most patients benefit by practicing mediation, yoga, listening to music, writing, gardening or anything that helps in coping with stress
As mentioned, given the unknown causal agents of chemo brain, the condition has no cure nor any dedicated treatment to it. However, following what the doctor advises, and seeking support from friends and family, can definitely makes things easier.