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'Chemo Brain' May Occur Before Treatment Even Starts
Date:12/7/2012

who had localized breast cancer and 32 healthy women without cancer. The women with cancer had all had surgery, while 28 were going to receive chemotherapy and 37 were going to receive radiation therapy. Before treatment and a month after treatment was begun, the participants performed a verbal memory task during functional MRI brain imaging and reported on their fatigue levels.

Women who underwent chemotherapy performed less accurately on the mental task tests both before treatment and after treatment. They also reported a higher level of fatigue.

Why did the women anticipating chemotherapy show a greater incidence of chemo brain than did those who were awaiting radiation therapy? "Anticipation of toxic side effects may increase the burden of distress," Cimprich said.

"It's a big decision for a lot of women, especially when they have a choice [of whether to have chemotherapy or not]," she explained.

Cimprich said the research is encouraging because it suggests that early intervention may reduce or even prevent thought-process problems in women who will be getting chemotherapy. "It opens up the paradigm of attack. If the problems were only caused by the chemotherapy, there wouldn't be much we could do to prevent them," she explained.

There are probably multiple sources of the thought-process difficulties women with breast cancer experience, Cimprich said, including worry and concern about the prospect and potential impact of chemotherapy.

Cimprich said there are several things health care providers can do to help eliminate the problems, including being aware that these issues can begin before treatment. She added that it is important that care providers understand that women awaiting chemotherapy are more vulnerable to thought-process problems related to chemotherapy and fatigue. "We may be able to identify women at greater risk," she said.

Preventive treatment options, Cimprich said, include exercise and activity, co
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