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About Chemo Brain: It May Actually be from the Cancer and Not the Chemo

By HERWriter Guide
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We have some great articles here on EmpowHER about Chemo Brain. Chemo brain is a term used to describe how the mind/brain reacts during treatment for cancer - often from chemotherapy. Many of our readers (and writers) who have or are currently undergoing chemo know exactly what chemo brain means; fogginess, confusion and a kind of grogginess, forgetfulness and fatigue that comes during (and even after) cancer treatments.

One of our experts, Dr. Marilou Terpenning (who is a medical oncologist at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.) describes her cancer patients as “people in their 20s that I treat for testicular cancer, and I have had people in their 80s that I treat, and everyone will notice some fogginess; don’t know the mechanism of it. It’s particularly profound in women who are in their twixt and tween years where they become menopausal from the chemotherapy.” https://www.empowher.com/breast-cancer/content/chemo-brain-it-common-after-chemotherapy-dr-terpenning-video

One of our members called it an “inability to concentrate, the words I forget halfway through a sentence, I feel like I'm just not as bright as I used to be, have wide mood swings, can't sleep, am anxious, frustrated ... I thought 'chemo brain' was a kind of joke; that the symptoms I have had for the last year would go away ... or it was something I just needed to 'get over' ... I am encouraged to learn that it's not 'all in my head' or something to be ashamed about.” You can read more of her story here and the comments from many of our readers, including cancer sufferers. https://www.empowher.com/community/share/chemo-brain-its-not-all-my-head

But a new study questions whether chemo brain is actually the result of the chemotherapy or other cancer treatments or if it’s actually due to the cancer itself. The New York Times reports that the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted research on almost 10,000 people. About 1300 of these people had a history of cancer, the others did not.

Add a Comment2 Comments

Hi Susan,

Thanks for posting this article but I do have to say that the headline is a bit misleading. The data from this study only looked at a connection between cancer and memory problems, that's all. According to one of the authors on the study, they did not have information about who had chemotherapy or hormonal therapies as well. In fact, it is safe to assume that these participants had some type of therapy to treat their cancer. So the study did not at all show that cancer itself causes chemo brain.

Thank you.
Idelle Davidson
Co-Author of "Your Brain After Chemo: A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus"

October 14, 2010 - 8:19am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Susan - Thanks for this article. Yes, chemo brain is very real, but sometimes even doctors don't acknowledge it. Having it is truly frightening, especially when it is not listed as a side effect of treatment and you aren't prepared for it in any way.

October 13, 2010 - 5:43pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.