A new UCLA study shows that chemotherapy causes long term changes to the function of the central nervous system. The effect, thought to be lasting as long as 10 years, seems to affect patients’ cognitive function, confirming the suspicion of the many clinicians of the so-called “chemo brain.”
Cancer survivors, take note. The mental fog and forgetfulness of “chemo brain” are no figment of your imagination.
A new UCLA study shows that chemotherapy causes changes to the brain’s metabolism and blood flow that can linger at least 10 years after treatment. Reported Oct. 5 in the online edition of the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, the findings may help to explain the disrupted thought processes and confusion that plague many chemotherapy patients.
“People with ‘chemo brain’ often can’t focus, remember things or multitask the way they did before chemotherapy,” explained Dr. Daniel Silverman, head of neuronuclear imaging and associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA…
The team compared PET images evaluating the chemotherapy patients’ brain function to PET scans from five breast-cancer patients who underwent surgery only, and 13 control subjects who did not have breast cancer or chemotherapy.
As the women performed a series of short-term memory exercises, the UCLA team measured blood flow to their brains. The researchers also ran a scan of the patients’ resting brain metabolism after the women finished the exercises.
“The PET scans show a link between chemo-brain symptoms and lower metabolism in a key region of the frontal cortex,” explained Silverman. “We found that the lower the patient’s resting brain metabolism rate was, the more difficulty she had performing the memory test.”
The scans revealed that blood flow to the frontal cortex and cerebellum spiked as the chemotherapy patients performed the memory tests, indicating a rapid jump in these brain regions’ activity level.
“The same area of the frontal lobe that showed lower resting metabolism displayed a substantial leap in activity when the patients were performing the memory exercise,” said Silverman. “In effect, these women’s brains were working harder than the control subjects’ to recall the same information.”
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