Friday, December 01, 2006

Chemobrain is Confirmed

Laura Ingraham fought breast cancer last year, enduring a couple months of chemotherapy. On her radio show sometimes, she joked about having "chemobrain" at those times when her memory failed her. Now some Japanese researchers are confirming that chemobrain is real, as reported in yesterday's NewsDay.

Chemotherapy not only causes the phenomenon called "chemobrain," there now is evidence of subtle changes in specific brain regions explaining why some patients can't remember where they've placed their keys or lose their way along well traveled routes.

I didn't realize my doctors had secretly slipped some chemotherapy drugs into my tea. That sure explains the lost items (not my keys, though), the missed appointments, and the time I got lost on my way to the church I had attended for 14 years.

Despite a few past studies suggesting that chemobrain - a feeling reported by cancer patients of forgetfulness, confusion and disorientation - was more imagined than real, a team of medical investigators in Japan found the condition indeed is genuine and substantially affects cognition. Reported in the current issue of Cancer, the analysis provides concrete evidence that chemotherapy affects regions involved in thinking, reasoning and remembering.

American cancer specialists yesterday applauded the research, saying Japanese scientists have pinpointed brain regions most vulnerable in chemotherapy, and thus have paved the way for preventive strategies.

Alas, those preventive strategies are still in the future. At least now doctors can prepare patients ahead of time.

Chemobrain has been reported among patients who have undergone chemotherapy for virtually all forms of cancer but has been a particular complaint among breast cancer patients. Some studies have suggested that up to 40 percent of women who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer are affected by cognitive problems.

Yet three years later, there were no significant differences in tissue volume between the two groups of patients, suggesting the brain is capable of bouncing back.

Good news indeed.

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