COLUMBIA, Mo. Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer can experience cognitive declines, such as decreased verbal fluency or loss of memory and attention. Often experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy, the declines have become known as "chemo brain." However, a health psychologist at the University of Missouri says "chemo brain" isn't always to blame.
Stephanie Reid-Arndt, an associate professor and chair of the Health Psychology Department in the MU School of Health Professions, found that women who had undergone surgery for breast cancer but who had not yet received chemotherapy or hormone-replacement therapy experienced similar cognitive deficits as women undergoing chemotherapy. Patients who were stressed and had passive coping strategies to deal with their stress were more likely to experience cognitive declines.
"Women who reported higher stress levels also performed lower on memory and attention tests," Reid-Arndt said. "It appeared that passive coping strategies, such as denial, disengagement and helplessness, contributed to this relationship. This suggests lacking proactive ways to deal with stress can contribute to patients' experience of cognitive difficulties."
Reid-Arndt said developing effective coping strategies is essential to helping women with breast cancer lower their stress and maintain their cognitive function. Often, women receive a breast cancer diagnosis and immediately begin treatment without having much time to emotionally prepare, Reid-Arndt said.
"Sometimes the women who are most stressed are those who appear to be handling the diagnosis the best; they just may be good at hiding their emotions," Reid-Arndt said. "To help prevent this, women can be encouraged to acknowledge that they're stressed. Women should talk with their health care providers, families and friends about their stress and be willing to accept assistance from others."
Reid-Arndt hopes to apply the finding
|Contact: Jesslyn Tenhouse|
University of Missouri-Columbia