Chemotherapy damages the brain


Memory loss and poor concentration due to chemotherapy

Chemotherapy performed as part of cancer therapy can create changes in the brain. This would explain why cancer patients often suffer from memory problems or poor concentration during and after such treatment. US researchers first published their study results at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting.

With positron emission tomography (PET), which was combined with computed tomography (CT), scientists were able to demonstrate physiological evidence of the negative effects of chemotherapy on the brain. It was shown that the agents used sustainably damage brain metabolism. Brain areas that are responsible for planning and assigning priorities are particularly affected. For this reason, cancer patients often complain during and after chemotherapy with difficulty concentrating and with poor memory.

Mental disorders with an organic cause
"Chemotherapy patients also describe the phenomenon as mental fog and loss of coping strategies," says Rachel A. Lagos, a diagnostic radiologist at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown. So far, the causes of the side effects were still unclear.

The so-called "chemo-brain" is not a subjective experience, but a result of the treatment, emphasizes the researcher and study author. The research work has shown that "the functional disorders triggered by chemotherapy can be visibly identified during brain scans".

For the study, Lagos and colleagues examined the functions of the brains of 128 patients who were prescribed chemotherapy for breast cancer. The brain regions were recorded before and after therapy. With the help of PET, the scientists were able to measure the blood flow and examine different brain activities in individual areas. A specially programmed software then searched the recordings for differences in brain metabolism.

Changes in the brain are clearly visible
“When we saw the results, we were surprised because the changes were very obvious,” says Dr. Lagos. The so-called “chemo-brain phenomenon” is therefore more than just a feeling. It is not a patient depression. It is a change in brain function that is observable on PET / CT imaging. ” After chemotherapy, the images showed a significantly weakened metabolic activity for several regions in the brain than before. "The study shows that certain areas of the brain used less energy after chemotherapy," said Dr. "These brain regions are responsible for planning and prioritization." According to the scientist, the observed effects were more pronounced the more the subjects suffered from cognitive disorders.

Previous research had shown that patients could benefit from the help of nutritionists and exercise therapists. During the study, for example, participants complained that they found it difficult to prepare a meal for their family. "With shopping lists and written menus, the women were once again able to buy groceries," says Dr. Lagos.

Lagos, her colleagues, now hope that they have paved the way for better treatment so that the side effects of chemotherapy are reduced. "The next step should be a prospective study," said the expert. Further research could identify and narrow down the causes more precisely. This could also lead to improved treatment or prevention. (sb)

Also read:
Chemotherapy can be counterproductive to cancer
Chemotherapy for breast cancer is not always useful
Breast cancer: genetic test to prevent chemotherapy

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Video: What is Chemo Brain?


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