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After-Effects of Chemotherapy May Include Memory Problems

Lack of concentration, thinking difficulties reported by breast cancer survivors, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Chemotherapy can save the lives of people with cancer, but new research suggests it may have devastating effects on the brain.

Many cancer patients who receive chemotherapy report "chemobrain" -- a range of symptoms including a loss of memory and the ability to concentrate, and other problems such as difficulty thinking.

The stories of women who survived breast cancer but suffered from weakened brain power are told in a study published online Sept. 16 in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

Saskia Subramanian, from the Center for Culture and Health at the University of California -- Los Angeles, and colleagues interviewed 74 women who had completed cancer treatment at least a year earlier. The women described a variety of emotions, including fear, frustration and emotional exhaustion.

In some cases, women stated that they feared losing their independence because they wouldn't be able to take care of themselves like before. They sometimes devoted less time to work and to social activities, and felt that the medical community didn't pay enough attention to their symptoms of chemobrain, according to a news release about the study.

At the workplace, the side effects of chemotherapy robbed their ability to focus, potentially making it less likely that they'd be promoted, the study authors pointed out.

"These data underscore the very serious ways in which chemobrain can affect the life experiences of cancer survivors -- emotionally, psychologically and economically," the researchers concluded. "A clear understanding of the cognitive impairments experienced by survivors will aid researchers in developing targeted therapies and interventions aimed at improving or mitigating these post-treatment side effects."

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on chemobrain.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Journal of Cancer Survivorship, news release, Sept. 17, 2009

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