Cognitive dysfunction is a common and frustrating side effect for many patients who undergo chemotherapy. The condition – also called “chemobrain” – can create problems with memory, attention and concentration, information processing, and mental skills used for organizing and scheduling.
For many years, medical professionals were skeptical that these cognitive issues were a real side effect of treatment, leaving patients frustrated by the lack of information and suggested remedies. However, numerous cognitive testing and brain imaging studies have demonstrated that cancer and its treatments do have a significant effect on cognition. As a result, physicians now recognize it as a widespread issue, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) announced last week it will include chemobrain as part of its Survivorship Guidelines.
Although there is no specific screening tool for chemobrain, the NCCN’s Survivorship Guidelines recommend the following:
- Clinicians should assess other factors that may be affecting cognitive function, such as medications and their possible side effects; depression or anxiety; hormone levels; fatigue or sleep issues; and use of alcohol or other substances.
- Patients with chemobrain should use memory aids, avoid multitasking, limit alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly.
- If needed, physicians can prescribe medications that stimulates thinking and alertness (psychostimulants).
For more information on chemobrain, including why it happens, and how to manage symptoms, read this blog post or view the presentation below from Fremonta Meyer, MD, of Dana-Farber’s Center for Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research.