The participants were then subjected to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the start of the study and after six months. The volunteers also underwent a series of neuro-psychological tests to assess their memory and concentration. The results showed that patients in the chemotherapy groups fared worse than those who did not have the cancer treatment. (Related: Chemo brain is real: Chemotherapy causes permanent brain damage.)
According to the researchers, patients in the chemotherapy group exhibited worse cognitive performance and function after six months. The research team had also observed that chemotherapy patients displayed significant memory loss and difficulties in managing ordinary tasks or concentrating. Likewise, data from brain scans revealed that patients who underwent chemotherapy had severe reductions in the brain’s network capacity.
"Our scans show that patients’ neural networks are significantly impaired following chemotherapy. The brain may not be able to process information as effectively as before...we cast light on a problem that is often neglected or overlooked. Some patients have difficulty finding help for the cognitive problems after chemotherapy. Our research helps to draw focus to the fact that the problem is real and exists," lead-author Ali Amidi tells Science Nordic online.
Outside expert Christoffer Johansen, research leader at the Danish Cancer Society Research Center, lauded the findings and stated that the study is strong and well-executed. Johansen noted that having cognitive issues could mean difficulties in remembering, performing tasks, going to work, or taking part in conversations. He also stressed that chemotherapy-induced reductions in brain capacity may pose a big problem for patients if they don’t perform as well as before they received the treatment. However, it remains unclear whether the chemicals used in chemotherapy or the stress that goes with it are to blame for cognitive impairment in patients, the expert added.
A U.S.-based outside expert has also highlighted that the study is only the most recent one in a slew of research linking chemotherapy to cognitive impairment. According to the expert, a large number of research about various types of chemotherapy have shown similar neural network changes, especially in breast cancer patients. The recent study demonstrated that men with weaker cognitive abilities before undergoing the chemotherapy are at an increased risk of seeing a change in cognitive abilities following the intervention, the scientist added.
"The Danish study supports previous work on other types of cancer that suggests that chemotherapy can lead to reduced efficiency in the brain’s neural networks, which can result in poor cognitive function. Just as with all other research, there’s certain limitations to the study, but these are reminiscent of limitations in similar work. For example, the number of patients in the study are relatively small, which can impact on how uncertain the results are. But as I say, the results are in line with previous studies," says American scientist Brenna McDonald, associate professor at the Center for Neuroimaging at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Follow more news on the toxic effects of chemotherapy at Chemo.news.