Health A-Z

Chemo Brain

Clinical Definition

Chemo brain is the mild cognitive impairment experienced by some cancer patients pre-treatment, during and post-treatment. Characteristics include memory lapses, concentration difficulties and difficulty multi-tasking.  Some researchers have found alterations in brain activity patterns on electroencephalograms (EEGs) in those on chemotherapy. Coping focuses on organizational techniques, sleep hygiene and exercise, as well as acceptance of the phenomenon.

In Our Own Words

Chemo brain, also called chemo fog, affects some cancer patients. They report difficulty concentrating and remembering details such as appointments and names, difficulty multi-tasking and difficulty finishing tasks at a speed that was typical for them.  More than one cause may explain chemo brain, including not just the chemotherapy but the cancer itself, other drugs used as part of treatment, sleep problems, fatigue and low blood counts.

For now, experts suggest daily coping strategies such as using daily planners to keep events and important details in one place, doing word puzzles, getting sufficient sleep and exercise, eating a healthy diet and abandoning multi-tasking, instead focusing on one task at a time.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Mental fogginess
  • Problems concentrating and remembering
  • Difficulty multi-tasking
  • Inability to remember common words
  • Slower than usual thinking speed
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