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Chemo Brain 101


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Chemo brain (also known as Chemo Fog) is one of the most commonly reported post treatment symptoms for people who have undergone chemotherapy. 

While chemo brain can be generally described as feeling as if you are in a fog, it can show up in different ways. For instance, chemo brain can show up as the lack of ability to remember certain things, trouble finishing tasks, and/or difficulty learning new skills. 

There is a lot of individual variability. Sometimes the effects of chemo brain are very mild and short lived. Sometimes they affect daily living or interfere with the ability to work for up to 10 years after treatment. Chemo brain can also interfere with relationships with families and friends, especially young children.

Generally people can still function with chemo brain. It just takes more effort.

There are no proven medical treatments to prevent or get rid of chemo brain. Instead, treatment focuses on coping with symptoms. Some coping techniques include:

  • Scheduling your day to do the most important things when you are at your best.
  • Setting a pattern for important chores so you do them the same way each time. 
  • Memory retraining exercises and programs.
  • Controlling other causes of memory lapse, such as being overly tired or disorganized.
  • Modifying your work schedule. 
  • Minimizing the effects on your medical care by telling your doctor what you are experiencing, preparing for meetings with medical personnel and using aides to remember to take medications.

It is advisable to let family (including children) and friends know if you experience chemo brain. Their support and understanding can help you relax and make it easier to focus and process information.

If chemo brain causes you to need changes in your work situation to help do your job, consider asking for an accommodation. (You may even be entitled to one under laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act). If you need to stop work, take appropriate steps, including doing what is necessary to keep your health insurance. (To learn how to prepare to stop work, click here.)

If you need help coping with chemo brain, consider seeking professional help with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Testing can help specialists find the extent of your symptoms and then suggest the best mental exercises for your problems. They can also recommend techniques for coping with your particular situation. 

For additional information, see:


  • There could be other causes for symptoms that appear to be chemo brain. If you believe you have chemo brain, ask your doctor to evaluate you to find out whether there may be another underlying treatable cause such as depression or hypothyroidism, and poor sleep. Once other causes are ruled out, the best doctor to provide a diagnosis of chemo brain is a neuropsychologist who knows how to test for brain function. 
  • Try not to focus so much on how chemo brain symptoms bother you. Accepting the situation will help you deal with it. As many patients have noted, being able to laugh about things you cannot control can help you cope.
  • You probably notice your memory situation much more than other people do. 

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