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“Chemo Brain” Facts and Fiction

For years, many people with cancer have been frustrated by the mental confusion they sometimes notice during and after treatment. Although doctors aren't sure of the exact cause, this mental fog that can happen is often called chemo brain. These mental changes can last a short time or go on for years and can be very distressing to patients. Chemo brain may impact everyday life for some people, causing them to miss school, work, and other social activities. 

According to the American Cancer Society, examples of chemo brain include difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, trouble remembering details, difficulty multi-tasking, disorganziation, and slower thinking and processing, but can vary between patients. Doctors often refer to this change as cancer treatment-related cognitive impairment or post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.

For some patients, problems may begin after surgery, and others notice problems after getting hormone treatments. Some cancer patients actually have brain problems even when they haven't had chemotherapy. Changes in brain functioning could be caused by the cancer itself, drug treatments, surgery, low blood count, sleep problems, and age, among other things. 

You can manage chemo brain by doing things that help to sharpen your mental abilities. First, be sure you are getting enough rest and sleep, and engage in regular physical activity to keep your body moving and your brain more alert. Set up and follow routines by using a daily planner or app on your phone to stay organized. Keep track of when your memory problems are most noticable so you can plan ahead, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.