TAMPA - Patricia French is going through her second round of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer that has spread.
During both sessions, she noticed strange side effects. "Sometimes I get in my car and I don't remember where I'm going. I forget people's names. I forget dates. I'll go to the grocery store and I'll go, ‘Hmm, what did I come in here for?’"
Commonly referred to as "chemo brain," Moffitt researcher Dr. Heather Jim recently wrapped up a study to prove whether such a thing actually exists.
She looked at 17 studies already published on 800 breast cancer patients treated with chemo - as well as breast cancer patients treated with other therapies and women without cancer at all.
Jim says, “This type of study allowed us to analyze data from a lot more participants then we would if we had to go out and collect the data ourselves. So, what we found is that breast cancer patients who had been treated with chemo showed slight deficits in verbal ability. That would be finding words when you're speaking. And they also showed deficits in visuospatial ability. For example, they might have more trouble putting together a jigsaw puzzle."
The importance of the study to women like Patricia? It proves, “That I'm not going crazy! Absolutely."
Jim says it also opens the door to possible therapy. A neuropsychologist, she suggests, can offer behavioral techniques to compensate for lost deficits. What the study didn't show is if these deficits last long-term.
Are the agents in the chemo causing cells in your brain to die?
Jim says her study didn't look at that but there are studies that suggest some types of chemo can cross into the brain and cause death among neurons and that may be one of the reasons chemo brain starts.
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