Saturday 17 December 2016

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Chemo Brain

Summary of our weekly group discussion ~ 17th December 2016


Chemo-brain is a common term used to describe the thinking, attention and memory problems that occur during and following cancer treatments.

Though chemo-brain is a widely used term, it is somewhat misleading because even those of us who had not received chemotherapy reported a notable impairment in our thinking abilities. However, Naz told us it is widely recognised that the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis plays a significant role and that hormonal treatments also contribute to a reduction in our cognitive abilities.

Although there were exceptions, the overwhelming majority of us described experiencing significant difficulties in relation to thinking and retaining information, particularly our short-term memory and working memory ie holding one task/piece of information in mind while completing another task. Sometimes our errors were small, and we could laugh off our lapses in memory, but at other times, we felt our thinking problems were much more significant, undermining both our confidence and our ability to function in our everyday lives, for instance at work, in social settings and our relationships with our friends and families.

Naz explained that it is clear that the brain networks involved in processing (cognitive) information efficiently are heavily impaired in women with a breast cancer diagnosis. Both the attached paper and our own experiences highlight that these difficulties continue to impact on us to a varying degree, sometimes over many years.

Naz told us that there is also solid evidence to show that brain grey and white matter is reduced as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatment. The mechanisms in our brains which are involved in cognitive function have to work harder to achieve similar outcomes to those which individuals without a breast cancer diagnosis (matched controls) achieve with less effort which explains why some of us experienced mental as well as physical fatigue.

Psychological interventions focus on our depression and anxiety, yet our symptoms and experiences only served to highlight how little support and understanding is available to us. We need the medical world to take 'chemo-brain' and the consequences of it seriously as well as interventions which improve the brain’s attention and memory and in turn our overall psychological well-being.


No comments: