Chemobrain is a symptom reported by many cancer patients with difficulty processing information. It is a legitimate, diagnosable condition that can be caused by chemotherapy treatment, the cancer itself, or secondary medical conditions such as anemia.
Always tell your doctor about any changes in your thinking. He or she may refer you to a neuropsychologist. Evaluations for chemobrain are considered medical procedures, not a mental health benefit, and are covered by health insurance.
Symptoms of Chemobrain
- Difficulty concentrating on a single task
- Problems with short-term memory; forgetting details of recent events
- Feeling mentally “slower” than usual
- Confusing dates and appointments
- Misplacing objects
- Fumbling for the right word or phrase
These symptoms can fade after chemotherapy ends, but each patient is different. Some may take a year or more after treatment to feel normal again; others may never regain full mental ability.
Treatment for Chemobrain
Not many treatments for chemobrain currently exist, although some patients may find relief from stimulants such as Ritalin®. Ritalin can help improve mental focus, concentration and stamina in cancer patients. You may also use the following coping strategies to minimize the effects of chemobrain:
Exercise: Even five minutes of mild to moderate activity may improve mental function.
Memory aids: Using a notebook, planner or list to keep track of things as they come to mind. A small recorder can also come in handy.
Treat fatigue and sleep problems: These conditions can worsen chemobrain symptoms.
Manage depression and anxiety: Easing stress and elevating mood can ease chemobrain symptoms.
Minimize distractions: Employers are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make reasonable accommodations for health-related issues such as chemobrain. A more soundproof environment, like an office or a cubicle in a different location, can decrease distractions and improve concentration in the workplace.
Jeffrey Wefel, Ph.D., started out as a professional soccer player. But after an injury, he went on to study injuries of the brain, inspired by a part-time job in a neuropsychology laboratory after college.
Despite going on to earn advanced degrees in clinical psychology, Wefel didn’t learn about the effects of cancer or cancer treatments on the brain until he observed our patients as the first graduate of MD Anderson’s postdoctoral...
Neuropsychologists provide intervention strategies for cognitive changes caused by cancer treatments or coexisting problems.
- Request a referral from your MD Anderson doctor
- Call 713-792-0708