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How to manage chemo-brain in breast cancer survivors-

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“A study demonstrates a significant correlation between poorer performance on neuropsychological tests and memory complaints (chemo-brain) in post-treatment, early-stage breast cancer patients”

Image result for image of chemo brain

I have been a cancer survivor since ’94. The debate about chemo-brain has been around for as long as I can remember. Many cancer survivors to varying degrees, complain of impaired brain function following chemo and radiation and physicians and researchers don’t believe us.

The important aspect of this debate, the important thing about all negative side-effects related to chemo and radiation is that they can be indentified and managed. Some side-effects can heal completely and some can be diagnosed and improved. But it is critical for cancer suvivors to identify and manage their side-effects to regain as much quality of life as possible.

I am both a cancer survivor and cancer coach. My research and experience as a chemo-brain survivor is that the brain is an organ the way my heart, liver, etc. are organs. Each was damaged to some extent during my aggressive conventional therapies. Each has healed to some extent since my conventional therapies ended in late 1996.

Healing my long-term and late stage collateral damage is a function of nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle therapies. All based on research and personal experience.

Do you have cancer or chemobrain? Are you struggling with short, long-term and/or late-stage side effects such as chemobrain? Scroll down the page, post a question or a comment and I will reply ASAP.

Thank you

David Emerson

  • Cancer survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

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A scientific basis for cognitive complaints of breast cancer patients?

“For many years, breast cancer patients have reported experiencing difficulties with memory, concentration and other cognitive functions following cancer treatment. Whether this mental “fogginess” is psychosomatic or reflects underlying changes in brain function has been a bone of contention among scientists and physicians.

Now, a new study led by Dr. Patricia Ganz, demonstrates a significant correlation between poorer performance on neuropsychological tests and memory complaints in post-treatment, early-stage breast cancer patients — particularly those who have undergone combined chemotherapy and radiation...

Because cognitive complaints following cancer treatment have often been associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms, limiting confidence that “chemo brain” and similar difficulties reflect a cancer treatment toxicity, the researchers excluded women with serious depressive symptoms. They also took careful account of the cancer treatments used and whether or not menopause and hormonal changes could be influencing the cognitive complaints. A sample of age-matched healthy women who did not have breast cancer was used as a control group…

While earlier studies had not identified a consistent association between cognitive complaints and neuropsychological testing abnormalities, the UCLA research team found that even when patients reported subtle changes in their memory and thinking, neuropsychological testing showed detectable differences.

In particular, they discovered that poorer performance on the neuropsychological test was associated both with higher levels of cognitive complaints and with combined radiation-and-chemotherapy treatment, as well as with symptoms related to depression...

Though I still exhibit a few chemobrain symptoms such as missp3lled words in my blog posts, my brain works a lot better today than it did in 2000 when I first determined I was struggling with chemobrain. In addition to moderate regular exercise, add the nutritional supplements below. All are links to pages with complete explanations as to the health benefits of each supplement.

My Road Back From Chemobrain

“It was finally time to celebrate. I had just received an honorary certificate for completing a long course of chemotherapy. This was the last big hurdle in my cancer treatment. I had already been through surgery and radiation to treat an aggressive form of colorectal carcinoma…

She (my mother) told me I’d been telling the same stories over and over again. I’d tell a story and then 15 minutes later I’d tell it again. I would also use words incorrectly in a sentence and not even realize it…

She (the nurse) told me I had what’s known as cancer-related cognitive impairment or “chemobrain.” Estimates vary but studies suggest a significant number of cancer patients who’ve undergone chemo may experience some degree of cognitive impairment. Until recently, however, many doctors tended to dismiss the memory loss off as a given side effect of treatment. Their advice was for patients to wait it out and hope the problems diminished over time. It was then that the nurse said she believed the hospital I was receiving treatments at had started a fairly new program to help with the effects of chemo brain and pointed me in the direction of Cancer Rehabilitation Center…

He (the patient navigator) says chemo brain exists but it is under-recognized and under-treated

Apparently, I am a perfect example of chemo brain. When I arrived at AAMC’s Cancer Rehab Center, I tested far below average for memory and word recall. I began a rigorous course of treatment using a combination of exercises, strategies, and tricks to teach the brain new ways to access information

After twelve sessions, I was thrilled with my progress. I jumped from the 13th percentile in cognitive function to the 79th percentile. Other patients have seen similar results after going through the program…

Kicking Chemobrain to the Curb

“Because of all of this, I notice anything I come across that might improve brain processes, especially for cancer patients. For the past month, I’ve been following a sort of brain training regimen that hasn’t restored the “old” me, but does seem to be having a positive effect and is easy to put into practice:

Online brain training. Sometimes the universe sends clear signals. Shortly after curetoday.com published an article on brain training in breast cancer survivors, my local library made Brain HQ available to cardholders. I signed up about a month ago and have been doing the daily online workout. Some of the exercises are quite difficult for me. I have noticed that my attention to detail seems to be improving in real life, and during the memory exercises, I can almost feel my brain crackling with effort. If you have hearing or sight issues, some of the exercises could be frustrating.

Physical training exercise has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function, and I believe that is true. When I go through more sedentary periods, for whatever reason, I notice that my thinking becomes slower as well. Because movement improves my mood, it also just puts me out in the world more, and that has brain benefits, too.

Keeping a record. One of the reasons I was able to remember those two specific events that opened this essay is because I keep a record of what’s going on with my thinking. I’m not great at it, but because some of my mental changes have concerned me, I want to be able to explain to my doctor what they are, when they happen and why they matter.

Using time better. One of the things I discovered using Brain HQ is that my ability to do relatively well on the various exercises is related to the time of day I do them. This reinforces my own belief that I’m basically a morning person. I try to undertake certain activities earlier in the day and to have patience with myself later in the day when things take longer to complete or mentally wear me out.

Adding more vegetables. I already ate the recommended amount of vegetables nearly every day, but because vegetables are linked with better mental function as you age, I’ve been making sure to match that recommendation or beat it.

Giving myself a break. One of the most reassuring statements I’ve come across was in an online interview here, in which breast cancer expert Lillie Shockney said, “Part of the cause may not be related to the physical treatment with drugs, but instead due to this being a life-altering experience, similar to soldiers going to war and now returning home. Their world doesn’t feel the same and they can have difficulty concentrating and remembering things. This can also be the case with cancer survivors. Give yourself time.””

 

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