Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

'Chemo Brain' Real, Not Just Patient’s Imagination

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 29, 2012 (Chicago) -- For cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who have found their complaints of general mental fogginess and haziness dismissed by their doctors as not being a real medical condition, vindication has arrived.

Using brain imaging, researchers have found physiological evidence of "chemo brain," the problems with memory, concentration, and planning that often plague cancer patients during treatment with chemotherapy drugs.

A combination of positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET/CT) showed chemotherapy can induce changes in the brain that may affect concentration and memory, says researcher Rachel A. Lagos, DO, a resident in diagnostic radiology at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown.

"We were surprised at how obvious the changes were," Lagos says. "Chemo brain phenomenon is more than a feeling. It is a change in brain function observable on PET/CT brain imaging."

Chemo Fog Common

In a 2006 study, University of Rochester researchers found that 82% of 595 people with cancer given chemotherapy reported problems with memory and concentration.

Still, the cause of chemo brain has been difficult to pinpoint, leading some doctors to doubt its existence. Some studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have found small changes in brain volume after chemotherapy, but no definitive link has been found.

So Lagos and colleagues took a different tactic, using a combination of PET and CT imaging to look for changes in brain metabolism in 128 patients who had undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer.

"PET/CT imaging shows how the brain is using energy. So it gives you an earlier look at regions of the brain that are being affected by chemotherapy, as they start to use less energy. That happens long before you can see structural changes in the brain on MRI," she says.

PET/CT imaging revealed changes in metabolism in brain regions involved in long-term memory, mental agility, decision making, problem solving, and prioritizing.

The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Chemo Brain: Outside Perspective

"Importantly, the regions of the brain that were affected made sense in terms of the symptoms that patients report," says Max Wintermark, MD, engineering chief of neuroradiology for the University of Virginia.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas