'Chemo Brain' May Be Temporary

Subtle Brain Changes After Chemotherapy Disappear Within 2 Years, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 27, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 27, 2006 -- A new study shows that "chemo brain" -- shifts in memory and attention after chemotherapy -- may be a temporary condition.

The study, published early in the online edition of the journal Cancer, comes from Japan.

Researchers studied brain scans of breast cancer patients who had received chemotherapy and patients who had not, as well as scans of healthy women.

The scientists noted several differences in the scans of women who had gotten chemotherapy in the previous year. Those women had less volume in certain brain areas tied to memory and attention.

However, brain scans taken three years after the chemotherapy showed no differences among breast cancer patients who had gotten chemotherapy, those who hadn't gotten chemotherapy, and the healthy women.

The results suggest chemotherapy may have a "temporary effect" on brain structure, the researchers write.

The Study

The researchers included Masatoshi Inagaki, MD, PhD, of the National Cancer Center Hospital East in Chiba, Japan.

Their study looked at 51 women who had gotten chemotherapy one year earlier as part of breast cancer treatment after breast surgery.

They also studied scans of 54 women who had had breast cancer a year earlier but hadn't gotten chemotherapy after surgery, as well as those of 55 women with no history of cancer or chemotherapy.

The women were in their mid-to-late 40s, on average.

The scans were taken with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and were part of a Japanese cancer database.

It's not clear whether chemotherapy caused the brain changes or whether the women had noticed any changes in their memory or attention.

"These findings can provide new insights for future research to improve the quality of life of cancer patients who get chemotherapy," write Inagaki and colleagues.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Inagaki, M. Cancer, Nov. 27, 2006; online "Early View" edition. News release, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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