Injections of an antioxidant called N-acetyle cysteine (NAC) have the potential to prevent the memory loss that breast cancer chemotherapy drugs sometimes induce, according to the results of animal studies conducted at West Virginia University (WVU).
During the study, rats were administered the commonly used chemotherapy drugs adriamycin and cyclophosphamide.
The researchers observed that the animals that were trained to prefer a light room to a dark room forgot their training while on drugs.
"When animals are treated with chemotherapy drugs, they lose memory. When we add NAC during treatment, they don't lose memory," said Gregory Konat, professor of neurobiology and anatomy.
Dr. Jame Abraham, director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program at WVU's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, said that patients often complain about doctors not taking their complaints about "chemobrain" seriously.
"In the past, there was a lot of ignorance among doctors about chemo-induced cognitive problems. In some patients, problems can persist for up to two years," Dr. Abraham said.
The researchers say that as many as 40 per cent of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy complain of symptoms such as severe memory and attention deficits.
According to them, scientists previously suspected that the cancer might be the cause of this problem, instead of chemo drugs.
Dr. Abraham said that a study his team had unveiled earlier this year used MRI scans to document the extent of changes to the brain in women who received chemotherapy for breast cancer, and that the latest study further clarified the connection between drugs and memory loss.
He also suggested that NAC might be a potential remedy.
Abraham, however, added: "At this point, we have no evidence to say that NAC is safe in patients who are getting chemotherapy. We need more studies to confirm the role of NAC in patients."
The study has been published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease.