Chemo Brain: A Decade of Evidence

Jeffrey S. Wefel, PhD; Alice Goodman, MA


November 01, 2013

In This Article

Chemo Brain May Become Increasingly Common

Editor's Note: Cognitive dysfunction is a recognized entity that can occur in cancer patients treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Medscape Oncology spoke with Jeffrey S. Wefel, PhD, Section Chief of Neuropsychology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, for an overview of what the evidence shows about the condition popularly known as "chemo brain."

Medscape: What is the importance of chemo brain?

Dr. Wefel: The word "chemo brain" was actually coined by patients who reported cognitive difficulties after undergoing chemotherapy. However, some cognitive changes experienced by cancer patients may not be caused by chemotherapy and may be due to other cancer therapies, such as hormonal therapies, and to cancer itself.

Chemo brain, or treatment-related cognitive dysfunction, limits cancer patients' professional, social, and family lives and leads to increased financial burden, mood disturbance, and reduced quality of life. As our population ages, cancer diagnoses will increase, and so will neurodegenerative disorders that affect cognitive function. At the same time, advances in cancer treatment are producing a growing number of cancer survivors. Taken together, these factors suggest that cognitive dysfunction will become increasingly common, and neuropsychological services will be required for many cancer patients.

This crossroads in oncology requires us to understand the magnitude of these issues, their frequency across many patient groups, and their impact on patients' lives. Treatment-related cognitive dysfunction in cancer patients directly affects patients and their families, and it creates a ripple effect with important implications for our healthcare system and the larger global economy.


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