Chemo Brain: Exercising Your Way


ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Almost 40 percent of us will be told we have the c-word at some point in our lives. The fact is that more and more people are surviving cancer. In fact, there are almost 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. But the side effects of treating cancer, especially the side effects of chemotherapy, can be long lasting. Nearly every chemo patient experiences some short-term problems with their memory. But some of those people will feel the impact for the rest of their lives. As Ivanhoe reports, there may be a simple solution to ease the impact of chemo brain.

Tessa Gauzy was young … vibrant … healthy …

“And one day just after a run, I was like, my breast hurts and it hadn’t done that before. And I was like, okay. So, when I was taking my shower after, I felt the lump,” explained Tessa.

Tessa was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. Tessa underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. And although both have their side effects, it was the chemo that threw her for a loop.

“Most patients diagnosed with cancer will experience some degree of cognitive decline throughout their cancer experience,” shared Elizabeth Salerno, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Surgery with Washington University.

Chemo brain usually improves within nine to 12 months. But up to 20 percent may have long-term effects including problems with memory, word retrieval, concentration, following instructions, multitasking, and setting priorities. A study from Washington University in St. Louis found that once diagnosed, rest may not be the best medicine.

“Patients may benefit more from moving their bodies and being physically active in the days and weeks leading up to treatments rather than just sitting and resting,” said Salerno.

Another study out of Dana Farber suggests aerobic exercises like walking, running, dancing, or cycling have the most impact. Tessa found her focus by spinning.

“It’s kind of been a lifesaver,” Tessa said.

And hopes to peddle her way through cancer.

Although doctors don’t know what causes chemo brain, theories include the anxiety and stress related to the cancer diagnosis. Also, cancer medications like tamoxifen may contribute to prolonged cognitive symptoms than those who receive only chemotherapy.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

REPORT #2927

BACKGROUND: Chemo brain is a state of mental fog that affects a patient’s overall cognitive function and is extremely common. Symptoms often go unnoticed and can include mild forgetfulness; word-finding difficulties; difficulty remembering dates, names, and phone numbers; trouble concentrating; difficulty multitasking; or taking longer than usual to finish routine tasks. “As many as 75 percent of cancer patients have experienced it during their treatment, and about a third of patients may continue to struggle after treatment,” says Dr. Arash Asher, director of Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship at Cedars-Sinai. For most patients, the effects resolve within 6 to 9 months after they finish treatment. For others, the symptoms could last years.


COPING WITH CHEMO BRAIN: Some studies suggest that chemotherapy has toxic effects on the brain that mimic the effects of aging. The stress of a cancer diagnosis and treatment can also be a factor. Stress can lead to difficulty sleeping, changes in diet and activity levels, anxiety or depression that may also cause or worsen these problems. Breast cancer oncologist Megan Kruse, MD, stresses the importance that patients talk with their primary care doctor and oncologist if they notice these changes. “Patients go through their treatment in order to live their lives the way they want to live them, and this certainly can have a huge impact on quality of life and relationships, so we do want to address it.”  Small adaptations to daily life may help, such as journaling, keeping lists of reminders, using a calendar to track important days and events, labeling cabinets or drawers in the house, and performing light physical activity, which studies show can benefit the brain.

For more complex cognitive processing issues, patients may benefit from working with a neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, or a speech language pathologist.


PHYSICAL ACTIVITY LESSENS EFFECTS OF CHEMO BRAIN: Research suggests that physical activity may help people with breast cancer avoid mental health problems. A large study of people with breast cancer provides further evidence to the idea that staying active during chemo may help limit the severity of cognitive issues that arise. And the benefits may be even greater for patients who had an active lifestyle before treatment. A team led by Michelle C. Janelsins, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, found that people with breast cancer who met the minimum national physical activity guidelines before and during chemo had better cognitive function immediately and 6 months after chemo than people who did not meet the guidelines. When it comes to cognitive function, some researchers are looking at whether the type of physical activity is important. Those studies will provide critical information moving forward.


* For More Information, Contact:

Judy Martin Finch, Public Relations

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