Can cancer itself affect cognitive function?


Question from Nancy: I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer (multi-focal DCIS) and have had a bilateral mastectomy. No chemo or radiation is needed. Lack of cognitive speed and efficiency has been an issue for the last year or so. Can it be related to the cancer itself and not the effects of chemo, radiation or any medication? I am 47 and perimenopausal. What can you suggest I do to address this issue?
Answers - Patricia A. Ganz, M.D. This question is a very good one because people in midlife who are perimenopausal have disruption in their sleep and as a result have difficulty concentrating. It is unlikely that your complaints are related to the cancer itself even though we know that the cancer was developing before you were diagnosed.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Women are very finely tuned animals and we are very sensitive to small as well as big changes in our lives. When things get us rattled or upset or a little disoriented, our ability to think clearly tends to be affected. We are often in charge of coordinating so many things in our lives. When you are juggling six balls at the same time and someone throws you a seventh ball to juggle, it can be unnerving. It throws off a lot of sensitive functions that you expect yourself to do well, including thinking clearly and remembering well.

On Wednesday, August 16, 2006, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Thinking and Memory ChallengesPatricia A. Ganz, M.D. and  moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about the memory and concentration challenges that can happen during and after breast cancer treatment.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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