What Is Chemo Brain?

What Is Chemo Brain?

Chemotherapy can help you beat cancer, but side effects are almost certain. It’s common for you to have a cloudy mind, called "chemo brain," during and after treatment. Maybe you have a hard time remembering names or can’t multitask as well as you used to.

As many as 3 out of 4 people with cancer say they're not as mentally sharp. It’s often caused by your chemotherapy medicines, but it can also come from the cancer itself or other problems like infection, low blood counts, fatigue, sleep problems, or stress.

Symptoms

Chemo brain can cause thinking and memory problems. Symptoms include trouble with:

  • Concentrating and paying attention
  • Remembering names, dates, and everyday things
  • Finding the right word or doing simple math (like balancing your checkbook)
  • Doing more than one thing at a time
  • Mood swings

Diagnosis

If you’re in a mental fog, talk to your doctor. He will ask about your symptoms. He will also want to know when your problems started and how they affect your everyday life.

Your doctor may ask what makes your symptoms worse and better. Do you, for example, feel better in the morning than at night? Does it help when you're active, when you eat, or after you've rested?

Bring a list of all the medicines you take, even if they aren't for cancer.

Treatment

If chemo brain is disrupting your daily life, your doctor may suggest a counselor or psychologist. There are other things that can help too, including:

Memory Aids

Simple strategies can help with memory loss and confusion. Try these tips:

  • Carry a daily to-do list with reminders.
  • Don't multitask. Do one thing at a time so you're not distracted.
  • Put sticky notes around your home and office. Set reminders on your smartphone, too.

How Long Does It Last?

Often, the fogginess will fade when your chemo ends. But for some people, the fuzzy feelings will linger for several months or sometimes a year or more.

Continued

For those with lasting symptoms, researchers are looking at medicines for diseases like depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. But more testing needs to be done.

If you have chemo brain that persists and you’ve tried all the self-help tips, talk with a neuropsychologist. This is a doctor who specializes in the brain and can help with attention span and memory. He will find areas where you need help and tell you if other treatable problems like depression, anxiety, and fatigue are to blame.

Remember, It's Real

You’re not just imagining this. Studies show that cancer and its treatment causes changes in the brain. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for support and gentle reminders. Support groups are another great idea.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 19, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Chemo Brain."

American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Attention, Thinking, or Memory Problems."

Gordon, D. Neurology Now, April/May 2014.

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: "Chemobrain."

CancerCare: “Cognitive Problems After Chemotherapy.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination