- Question from Ruta: How long do chemo brain and memory lapse last? I'm still struggling, especially when tired, and it's been two years since my chemo sessions.
- Answers - Patricia A. Ganz, M.D. You're asking a very good question about two interrelated problems that many women will experience after breast cancer. The first is problems with memory and concentration. The second is fatigue. Fatigue actually occurs in about a third of all women after breast cancer treatment and does not seem to be related to a specific cancer treatment. That is to say, some women who just have surgery and no chemotherapy may feel fatigued. In addition, a smaller number of women complain of memory concentration problems. We have a difficult time knowing for sure what the number is but it's probably in the range of 15 percent, which is much lower than initially thought. It's also becoming evident that women who complain of difficulties with their memories and concentration are not necessarily women who perform poorly on standardized memory tests that a neuropsychologist would administer. What I'm trying to say is the perception or sense that one is having trouble with one's memory may not always lead to poor performance on a test, and sometimes it's anxiety, depression, difficulty with sleep, and fatigue that are making one have difficulty concentrating. Therefore, it's important for us to treat anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping before assuming that someone has serious difficulty with concentrating.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. This point that Dr. Ganz is making is critically important. Basically, all of the anxiety, depression and the other conditions that she described actively interfere with your memory and your thinking ability as well as your capacity to learn new things. And that's why it is so important to address those concerns, to free your mind up to do the work of thinking and remembering. Your ability to perform "executive functioning" requires coordination of many different functions of the brain and anxiety in particular can completely undermine your ability to coordinate all the different things you ask your mind to do throughout each day.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Thinking and Memory Challenges featured Patricia A. Ganz, M.D. and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about the memory and concentration challenges that can happen during and after breast cancer treatment.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in August 2006.
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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