A frazzled state of mind known as "Chemo brain," reported by some patients who've undergone chemotherapy, has been noted in medical literature since the 1980s. Though noted, the phenomenon has not been seriously studied. Researchers at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, along with the Kessler Foundation, have started this study in detail and hope their pilot study will help quantify the condition's frequency and physiological impact.
"Unfortunately, it's take quite some time for it to be a topic of research," said Ms. Serena Wong, a medical oncologist. Complaints of forgetfulness and an inability to concentrate may have initially been dismissed as simply being a side effect of chemotherapy. "Understandably, cancer patients have lot of things going on. The diagnosis alone causes a lot of stress," Ms. Wong said. Anti-nausea medications taken during chemotherapy and long-term hormonal suppressors cancer survivors take to prevent recurrence, might have side effects.
The concept of "chemo brain" is often neglected as the patients find it difficult to explain it and also the doctors, concentrating more on the life-threatening disease forget to take into consideration the quality of life of the patient. On top of that, said Wong, is this simple aspect of human nature: Doctors like to be able to solve their patients' problems. Since there is no available treatment for "chemo brain," it can get skipped over when examining patients.
Yet no treatment can be pursued until researchers understand what causes it. The incidence of chemo brain has been reported varying from as little as five percent of patients up to as much as 60 percent in the earlier studies. The concept can be further studies on people who are going through chemotherapy and also who have undergone chemotherapy by having a scan done by MRI, and their brain activity and function could be measured.
Some patients do report longer lasting symptoms, even though most of the symptoms clear up after a year. "I've had a handful of patients who've said they've never felt they've gotten back to their baseline of normal," Ms. Wong said, further adding that the gradual improvement in cancer survival rates has created a larger group of survivors and a drive for the medical field to focus on the effects of treatment. "It's a matter of quality of life for these patients," she said.