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Chemotherapy's Effects on the Brain

the patient's resting brain metabolism rate was, the more difficulty she had performing the memory test."

The scans revealed that blood flow to the frontal cortex and cerebellum spiked as the chemotherapy patients performed the memory tests, indicating a rapid jump in these brain regions' activity level.

"The same area of the frontal lobe that showed lower resting metabolism displayed a substantial leap in activity when the patients were performing the memory exercise," said Silverman. "In effect, these women's brains were working harder than the control subjects' to recall the same information."

Finally, the researchers discovered that women who underwent hormonal therapy in addition to chemotherapy displayed changes to their basal ganglia, a part of the brain that works to bridge thought and action. On average, these women showed an 8 percent drop in resting metabolism in this brain region.

"Chemotherapy used to be prescribed primarily to treat metastatic disease," observed Silverman. "Now it's common for doctors to administer chemotherapy to patients near the time of surgery to prevent metastasis. As many of these patients become long-term survivors, doctors are recognizing lasting side-effects of chemotherapy, and, in particular, the kind of chemo-brain symptoms we are studying."

"Our findings suggest that PET scans could be used to monitor the effects of chemotherapy on brain metabolism," he added. "The approach could be easily added to current whole-body PET or PET/CT scans already being used to monitor patients for tumor response to therapy."

Although chemo brain is an acknowledged phenomenon, doctors don't know what mechanisms cause it. More studies are needed to uncover how the damage occurs and whether modification of chemotherapy drugs could prevent it.

The National Cancer Institute recently awarded a five-year grant to oncologist Dr. Patricia Ganz, who is organizing a lo
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