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Chemotherapy's Effects on the Brain

Cancer survivors now have an explanation for their mental fog and forgetfulness and can no longer explain it away as a figment of their imagination//.

A new UCLA study shows that chemotherapy causes changes to the brain's metabolism and blood flow that can linger at least 10 years after treatment. Reported Oct. 5 in the online edition of the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, the findings may help to explain the disrupted thought processes and confusion that plague many chemotherapy patients.

"People with 'chemo brain' often can't focus, remember things or multitask the way they did before chemotherapy," explained Dr. Daniel Silverman, head of neuronuclear imaging and associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Our study demonstrates for the first time that patients suffering from these cognitive symptoms have specific alterations in brain metabolism."

Silverman and his colleagues used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brains of 21 women who had undergone surgery to remove breast tumors five to 10 years earlier. Sixteen of them had been treated with chemotherapy regimens near the time of their surgeries to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

The team compared PET images evaluating the chemotherapy patients' brain function to PET scans from five breast-cancer patients who underwent surgery only, and 13 control subjects who did not have breast cancer or chemotherapy.

As the women performed a series of short-term memory exercises, the UCLA team measured blood flow to their brains. The researchers also ran a scan of the patients' resting brain metabolism after the women finished the exercises.

"The PET scans show a link between chemo-brain symptoms and lower metabolism in a key region of the frontal cortex," explained Silverman, a member of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. "We found that the lower
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