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Chemo Brain 101

What Causes Chemo Brain?

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No one knows what causes chemo brain.

Research has shown that some cancer drugs can, indeed, cause changes in the brain. Imaging tests have shown that after chemotherapy, some patients have smaller brain size in the parts of the brain that deal with memory, planning, putting thoughts into action, monitoring thought processes and behavior, and inhibition.

Some people report having these symptoms even before they start treatment. Others report symptoms of chemo brain even though they have not had chemotherapy. Still others notice the problem when they are getting hormonal treatments. So the term "chemo brain" may not be completely accurate, but it is the name that most people call it right now.

How often it happens, what may trigger it, or what can be done to prevent it, is also unknown.

Chemo brain could be caused by any one or a combination of the following factors:

  • The cancer itself
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Other drugs used as part of treatment (such as anti-nausea or pain medicines)
  • Patient age
  • Stress
  • Low blood counts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hormonal changes

Because the cause is not known, there are no tests for chemo brain. There are, however, tests which can rule out other causes of the mental fog known as Chemo brain.

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