Chemotherapy alters brain tissue in breast cancer patients

October, 2010

More evidence for the reality of ‘chemobrain’, showing physical changes in the brain.

Over the years I’ve reported on a number of studies investigating the effect of chemotherapy on the brain. A new study uses brain imaging, before and after treatment for breast cancer, to show that there is an anatomic basis for “chemobrain” complaints. The study, involving 17 breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy after surgery, 12 women with breast cancer who did not undergo chemotherapy after surgery, and 18 women without breast cancer, found that gray matter density decreased in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum and right thalamus, shortly after chemotherapy.

The areas affected are consistent with memory and executive functions like multi-tasking and processing speed being the most typically affected functions. Post-surgery scans were carried out at one month, and at one year. Gray matter density in most women had improved by one year after chemotherapy ended.

Reference: 

Related News

A pilot study involving 22 breast cancer patients currently receiving chemotherapy (mean age 54), has found that those with higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers did significantly worse on tests for short-term visual memory.

Chemo-brain common among women with breast cancer

A six-week study involving 619 cancer patients has found that those who took part in a simple home-based exercise program significantly reduced their cognitive impairment ('chemo-brain').

The issue of ‘chemo-brain’ — cognitive impairment following chemotherapy — has been a controversial one.

Cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy often suffer long-term cognitive problems. Until now, most research has been occupied with establishing that this is in fact the case, and studies investigating how to help have been rare.

Women who received a once-standard type of chemotherapy regimen for breast cancer between 1976 and 1995 have been found to score worse on cognitive tests than women who never had cancer.

A recent study of cancer survivors has found that many survivors still suffer moderate to severe problems with pain, fatigue, sleep, memory and concentration three to five years after treatment has ended.

A study involving 1426 long-term survivors of childhood cancer (survivors of eight different childhood cancers who were treated between 1970 and 1986) has revealed cognitive impairment in over a fifth.

Confirming earlier indications from small studies, a very large nationwide survey has found that people who have had cancer are 40% more likely to experience memory problems that interfere with daily functioning.

Many survivors of childhood cancer experience cognitive problems as a result of their treatment. The drug methylphenidate (marketed under several names, the best known of which is Ritalin) has previously been shown to help attention problems in such survivors in the short term.

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news