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Many people become concerned about the vague but distressing mental changes they notice during or after cancer treatment. Chemo brain is a legitimate and diagnosable medical condition that is known to cause cognitive impairment.

What is chemo brain?

The precise causes of chemo brain remain unclear. Based on several research studies, some scientists have attributed the general mental fogginess experienced by many cancer patients and survivors to a temporary reduction in the growth of brain cells, particularly in areas that control memory and learning, such as the hippocampus.

While chemo brain can occur after surgery or radiation treatment, it tends to be most noticeable after chemotherapy. That’s because the powerful chemotherapy drugs that destroy cancerous cells can sometimes affect healthy cells, including brain cells. Additionally, the fatigue and stress that often accompany cancer treatment can further compound the effects of chemo brain, which some patients experience in the form of:

  • Forgetfulness or memory lapses
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A short attention span
  • Trouble recalling common words or basic details, such as names and dates
  • General disorganization
  • An inability to multitask

What can be done about chemo brain?

In most cases, chemo brain comes on suddenly and lasts only for a short time. Many people find that their symptoms improve with regular exercise (physical activity can enhance mental clarity and boost cognitive function). It is also essential to get sufficient rest, manage stress and minimize distractions during and after cancer treatment. In addition to improving chemo brain symptoms, these efforts can enhance a patient’s overall wellness.

If you’d like to discuss your chemo brain symptoms with a specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request a consultation with or without a referral by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. Even though the changes you are experiencing may be subtle and imperceptible to others, we can help you develop coping strategies to minimize the effects of chemo brain on your daily life.