Chemo Brain: Battling the Red Devil


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— Brain fog, also called chemo brain or cognitive decline, refers to problems with memory and attention following chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The American Academy of Neurology reports that chemo brain currently affects about 75 percent of cancer patients and so far there has been no clear evidence as to why. Now, researchers are investigating the cause of this debilitating side effect.

Chemotherapy, a life-saving treatment for cancer patients  can also come with side effects of its own. Trouble with attention, focus, tiredness, and memory recall. This is what doctors call brain fog, or chemo brain.

“It’s a general term like a layman term, we say, ‘Oh my brain is foggy and I’m feeling clarity is not there,’” explained Dinender K. Singla, PhD, FAHA, FIACS, FAPS, professor and head of the division of metabolic and cardiovascular sciences at University of Central Florida College of Medicine Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, endowed chair at Advent Health and secretary of the North American Section of International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences.

(Read Full Interview)

Researchers have discovered one of the most effective anti-cancer drugs, doxorubicin is a life saving treatment, but it has also been, nick-named the “Red Devil” for its bright color and harsh side effects in the heart and muscles. Professor Singla found that exposure to doxorubicin causes a tangling of neurons and holes in brain cells. Even long after treatment has ended.

“They are living cured from cancer, but now are having this neurotoxicity, or Alzheimer’s disease, or some other dementia,” elaborated Professor Singla.

“They are not showing the effects immediately, they can show that effect up to one month, six months, six years, or ten years,” Professor Singla expressed.

The American Cancer Society reports that there are currently 15 million cancer survivors in the U.S. that have been exposed to chemotherapy treatment. Professor Singla says that cancer used to be a terminal disease, but now that it is treatable and manageable, the next step is to eliminate the side effects of treatment.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Sabrina Broadbent, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

To receive a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at:






REPORT:       MB #4846

BACKGROUND: Doxorubicin is a cytotoxic chemotherapy drug and an antitumor antibiotic in the anthracycline group. Doxorubicin is semi-synthetically produced and is the optimum treatment for many different kinds of cancers including breast, ovarian, leukemia, lymphoma, Wilms tumor, neuroblastoma, and sarcoma. The most notable visual attribute of this chemotherapy agent is its bright red color. Administration schedules vary depending on diagnosis as each cancer will require a different number of cycles. The side effects of this drug can vary widely. Other side effects can include red streaking or a flare-up type reaction along the vein of infusion or facial flushing.


DIAGNOSING: Another lesser-known side effect of chemotherapy is neurotoxicity causing cognitive dysfunction, commonly called “chemo brain.”  It affects up to 75 percent of cancer patients. However, physicians have only recently begun to recognize this consequence of treatment. Patients have reported symptoms of fatigue, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and increased stress. Through MRI imaging studies, researchers concluded that chemotherapy does have an effect on cognitive function in some patients. In an animal study, researchers found very selective changes in the functioning of animals that can’t be written off as a side effect of chemotherapy. Similar evidence in human observance indicates that chemo brain is a real toxicity of the chemotherapy agents.


NEW RESEARCH: Researchers at UCF College of Medicine have received a  $3 million grant from the NIH to study doxorubicin, one of the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs, and its harmful effects on the heart and muscles. It was during this research that they discovered cell death in brain cells exposed to doxorubicin indicating neurotoxicity. Dinender Singla, PhD, lead researcher, theorized that exposure to doxorubicin causes “chemo brain” and later in life may cause Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Singla said, “This is caused by various neurochemical alterations, oxidative stress and abnormalities in the brain which is linked to cell death and dysfunction.” To confirm the theory, they received an additional $370,000 grant. In preliminary studies, it was noted that exposure to the doxorubicin treatment causes a “tangling” of neurons, vacuoles, or holes in brain cells and the presence of Hirano bodies which are proteins typically found in the nerve cells of Alzheimer’s patients. Knowing the mechanisms of doxorubicin’s effect on the brain is now helping these researchers develop potential solutions like targeted stem cell therapies.





If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dinender K. Singla, PhD, FAHA, FIACS, FAPS, professor and head of the division of metabolic and cardiovascular sciences

Read the entire Q&A