Chemobrain is real.

The concept of chemobrain has never been well defined. Are anxiety and depression the cause? Who is more likely to get it? Which treatments increase the risk?

A new study tried to answer these questions. It was published in Journal of Clinical Oncology, December 28, 2016, with lead author Janelsins. Five hundred and eighty-one patients with stage I-IIIC breast cancer with mean age of 53 years were tested before and after scheduled chemotherapy and 6 months later. Assessed were cognitive impairment, perceived cognitive abilities, the impact of cognitive impairment on the quality of life, and cognitive impairment perceived by others. Three hundred and sixty-four age-matched people without cancer served as controls. A weakness of the study is that the controls were not people with breast cancer who did not receive chemotherapy.

Results were that patients treated with chemotherapy reported significantly more impairment in the 4 measures described above than the controls compared to their prechemotherapy status in the immediate posttreatment period as well as 6 months later. Risk factors were higher baseline anxiety and depression and decreased cognitive reserve. The type of chemotherapy regimen or endocrine therapy or radiation therapy did not influence the scores.

Unfortunately, no specific therapy is available for chemobrain. Further, the risk factors identified above are so common that they cannot be used to “stratify” patients regarding a specific treatment.

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