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'Chemo brain' shown to be very real side effect of chemotherapy

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 31st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Those who undergo chemotherapy as part of their cancer treatment suffer from such side effects as fatigue, hair loss and extreme nausea. What many those undergoing treatment frequently complain about is a misunderstood side effect called "chemo brain." The medical community has only just now acknowledged it as a real condition suffered by cancer patients.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The effects of chemo brain include mental dullness, memory, information processing and mood. Chemo brain was largely ignored by health care professionals, leaving cancer survivors with many unanswered questions.

A former hospice nurse diagnosed with breast cancer, 41-year-old Yolanda Hunter says that the effects of chemo brain are very real. "I could think of words I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to say . there was a disconnect from my brain to my mouth."

Following her chemotherapy treatments, Hunter, known for her busy and active lifestyle recalled, "I couldn't even formulate a smile. I had no expression."

Many women who suffered from chemo brain have since taken to the Internet through web chatting and blogging. It was there in cyberspace that they learned that they weren't alone in their chemo side effects.

A new study shows that "chemo brain" is a real, and fairly common, side effect of chemotherapy treatment.

Oncologist and professor at West Virginia University Jame Abraham says that about one-fourth of patients who undergo chemotherapy suffer from chemo brain symptoms such as short-term memory and focusing their attention.

Using positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brain for blood flow and brain activity, Abraham examined patients before they started chemotherapy and then six months afterwards. He noted seeing a significant decrease in brain activity in the second scan in areas related to memory, attention, planning and prioritizing.

Abraham states that chemotherapy "can cause damage to bone marrow, hair cells mucosa. In the same way, it can potentially cause changes in the brain cells too."

These findings bring up additional questions about who can be affected by chemo brain. There is also the question of whether it is a result of the chemotherapy, the cancer cells, a combination of the two or even something else entirely.

While chemo brain can be incredibly difficult to deal with, in most instances they are always temporary. The patient usually regains his or her full cognitive abilities about one or two years after they stop chemotherapy treatments.

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