- Question from Papyrus: Are there any treatments for chemo brain? I've suffered from it for 9 years, ever since I was treated for breast cancer.
- Answers - Christina Meyers There are a lot of treatments that can be helpful. Let's start with medication. For people who have a lot of fatigue and distractibility issues, stimulants can be helpful. We definitely do that quite frequently if there are no other contraindications. Exercise can help but it has to be done thoughtfully because stamina and fatigue can be worsened with too much exercise, so it has to be the right amount. Energy conservation, learning compensatory strategies, especially for people in school — using a day planner or PDA, cell phones with audible alerts — there are a lot of things that can lessen the impact on daily life.
- George Sledge, M.D. Let me just mention one additional point — one thing that patients who are suffering from what they think is chemo brain should allow their physicians to do is to become good physicians. There are many cognitive problems that are unrelated to chemo brain, such as depression. That would require treatment such as drug therapy or talk treatment, both of which can improve many of the problems related to depression. In addition, there are medical conditions that in my experience can mimic the symptoms reported for chemo brain. The common one is hypothyroidism, i.e. having low circulating thyroid levels, and this is associated with a variety of cognitive problems but is also a common endocrine disorder in women with and without a history of breast cancer. So because testing for this is cheap and simple and safe, and because the treatment is both cheap and highly effective (taking a thyroid replacement pill every day), this is something that ought to be tested for.
- Christina Meyers That's an excellent point, and I could not agree more. Having a medical evaluation to make sure there isn't a treatable underlying cause is absolutely essential. I think sleep disturbance can be a cause, and managing it is essential.
- George Sledge, M.D. That's particularly true with breast cancer survivors. Chemotherapy can turn people into couch potatoes and being a couch potato can contribute to weight gain that goes along with therapy. Weight gain can contribute to sleep apnea. It's very common, and sleep apnea syndrome can make you feel drowsy much of the time and mimic many of the symptoms of chemo brain. So the bottom line is your medical oncologist was trained in general and internal medicine for a reason!
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Managing Chemo Brain featured Christina Meyers, Ph.D., A.B.P.P. and George Sledge, M.D. answering your questions about how long chemo brain can last, what treatments can be helpful, and current research on cognitive effects of breast cancer treatment.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in October 2008.
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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