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Originally published May 12 2015

Chemo brain is real: Chemotherapy causes permanent brain damage

by Sandy J. Duncan

(NaturalNews) The reality of "chemo brain" has been established by researchers who have discovered clear evidence that patients develop cognitive issues after undergoing chemotherapy. The new studies reveal that chemotherapy can lead to problems with focus and recall with a sense of "brain fog" being described by many participants. There have been many theories of negative effects on the brain caused by chemotherapy, but this study is the first to describe the scientific mechanisms that may explain how it occurs.

The study conducted at the University of British Colombia in the Psychology and Physical Therapy Departments chose a test group of breast cancer survivors. The participants were asked to complete a series of tasks and their brain activity was recorded. The results showed the minds of people with chemo brain lack the ability for sustained focused thought.

Although many patients and healthcare workers use the terms "chemo brain" or "chemo fog," many doctors describe the condition as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or cognitive dysfunction. Most people who are experiencing the condition regardless of what it is called are able to do everyday things. But there seems to be a noticeable decrease in ability to perform as well as before they underwent chemotherapy. Symptoms can include:

• Memory loss or reduction in recall
• Hard time finding the right word for an object
• Trouble staying focused or on task
• Struggles with wandering thoughts
• Challenges with multi-tasking
• Difficulty with simple mental math
• Fatigue (tiredness and lack of energy)
• Difficulty keeping up with a conversation
• Confusion and/or brain fog

The statistics are not yet well established as to how many people have mild cognitive impairment after cancer treatment. One review surveyed women with breast cancer and suggested the proportion of women with cognitive impairment ranged between 17 out of every 100 (17%) and 50 out of every 100 (50%). More research and data is necessary to confirm how many chemotherapy patients have these problems.

Medical professionals and researchers do not know the direct cause of mild cognitive impairment. Research points to several factors, including chemotherapy, other cancer treatments, anxiety, fatigue, old age, depression and/or changes in cytokines (blood proteins).

Chemotherapy effects

German researchers looked at women with breast cancer before, during and after chemotherapy. Their research suggested that other unknown factors affect thought processes before chemotherapy, but that chemotherapy may make these problems worse in some women.

Research suggests that people who have mild cognitive impairment are also more likely to have depression, anxiety and fatigue. We don't know whether the causes of these are the same as the causes of cognitive impairment, or whether one leads to the other. One of the problems with testing for these issues is that tests do not always record the sort of issues that people have after being diagnosed with cancer. So people who are experiencing problems often have "normal" test scores.

A Dutch study researched women with breast cancer and contrasted cognitive challenges and the correlation between the different types of chemotherapy. They looked at women before and after treatment and compared them with women not having chemotherapy and women who didn't have breast cancer at all. The results indicated that women treated with high-dose chemotherapy were more likely to have cognitive impairment than those treated with standard-dose treatment.

Researchers have also used MRI scans to see if the brain works differently in people who have had chemotherapy. Participants in the study were given a memory test. The test started with simple questions and became increasingly more difficult. While they were taking the test, they were given an MRI brain scan. The researchers could see an increase in the activity in the brain during the test in both the control group and those who had chemotherapy. There was measurably less activity in the people who'd had chemotherapy.

Kristin Campbell, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and leader of the research team, said: "Physicians now recognize that the effects of cancer treatment persist long after its over and these effects can really impact a person's life." She also felt that these findings could help healthcare providers test and measure the effects of chemotherapy on the brain.


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