Latimer: Possible explanation for ‘chemo brain’ symptoms

Nausea, tenderness, hair loss, weakness and fatigue are just a very few common side effects during chemotherapy treatment.

If you or someone you love has gone through the trial of chemotherapy for treatment of cancer, you have no doubt heard about many unpleasant side effects.

Nausea, tenderness, hair loss, weakness and fatigue are just a very few common side effects during treatment.

The list of difficult symptoms is long and daunting. Once the final round of treatment is complete, the body slowly begins to recover and regain some strength. But even after the bulk of side effects have subsided, many survivors will talk about a phenomenon called ‘chemo brain.’

For some reason, after chemotherapy, between 20 and 30 per cent of people experience some cognitive impairment.

Symptoms can include confusion, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, mental fogginess, fatigue, poor attention, difficulty finding the right word, poor memory and others.

Symptoms typically last for a few years after treatment.

Until recently, there was some debate about the existence of this chemo brain  phenomenon, but studies have indeed shown it to be a real and measurable side effect of chemotherapy in some people.

Although many people experience temporary cognitive impairment due to the stress, fatigue and depression that goes along with cancer diagnosis and treatment, the longer term symptoms of  chemo brain are another matter.

Interestingly, they seem to mostly affect people experiencing breast, ovarian, prostate or other cancers of the reproductive system. New studies have now shed some light into what may be causing these symptoms.

Researchers at West Virginia University conducted brain imaging studies using PET/CT scans to show a physiological basis for post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.

In the study, brain metabolism was compared before and after chemotherapy in 128 breast cancer patients.

Results showed two brain regions with decreased metabolism after chemotherapy. The affected areas—the superior medial frontal gyrus and the temporal operculum—are known to be involved in prioritizing, problem solving, organizing and long-term memory. Not surprisingly, these are the areas often affected in  chemo brain.

Since we now have more people surviving cancer and also receiving more aggressive chemotherapy treatment, this condition has become increasingly clinically important.

Cognitive function can be measured. Ideally a person could have their cognitive functioning assessed before chemotherapy and then again after.

This would allow comparison of before and after functioning for a specific individual.

Alternatively, if one measures only when symptoms are noticed, one can compare functioning of that individual to an age and education matched control group. This is not as precise since but better than nothing.

More research is needed to fully understand the condition, the prognosis for those who experience it and to determine if there are ways it can be prevented, treated or minimized while still effectively targeting the cancer.

Just Posted

Okanagan RCMP look for owners of various keys located during arrest

RCMP seek to reunite the owners of various keys found at the arrest of suspects in a stolen vehicle.

Bumper ripped off Kelowna taxi in accident

The accident happened along Harvey Avenue

Lake Country bunny sanctuary needs your help to get hay

The non-profit is in the finals for The Great Hay Giveback

Kelowna offering money for good neighbourhood ideas

City says it has grant funding available for its Strong Neighbourhoods program

Okanagan College dives into cannabis courses

The college has adapted its programs in Kelowna

Watch it again: Kelowna mayoral candidates square off

Missing the LIVE Kelowna mayoral debate watch now

Okanagan RCMP look for owners of various keys located during arrest

RCMP seek to reunite the owners of various keys found at the arrest of suspects in a stolen vehicle.

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

B.C. has only one bricks-and-mortar marijuana store

After 50 years, ‘Sesame Street’ Big Bird puppeteer retiring

The puppeteer who has played Big Bird on “Sesame Street” is retiring after nearly 50 years on the show.

Britain, EU decide to take some time in getting Brexit right

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “we need much time, much more time and we continue to work in the next weeks.”

Parole denied for convicted killer-rapist Paul Bernardo after 25 years in prison

Paul Bernardo plead for release on Wednesday by arguing he has done what he could to improve himself during his 25 years in prison.

Man holds newborn son for first time after devastating B.C. racetrack crash

Kayden was born the day after Jonathan was crushed by car at speedway

Smooth start to legal cannabis in B.C., Mike Farnworth says

Online and government store makes 4,000 sales by noon

Kootenkoff: Sexual Harassment at Work

—By Susan Kootnekoff It changes lives. Perhaps it has happened to you.… Continue reading

Most Read