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"Chemo Brain" Can Persist for Three to Five Years; Exercise Can Help Reverse

Posted Jun 10 2011 12:00am

I continue to be interested in the topic of "chemo brain" (see: New Research Casts Spotlight on "Chemo Brain" ). I have this vision of cancer patients complaining of foggy thinking but their physicians struggling to understand the nature of the problem and design suitable treatment (see: Cancer survivors can't shake pain, fatigue, insomnia, foggy brain ). Here an excerpt from another article about it:

When people finish treatment for cancer, they want to bounce back to their former vital selves as quickly as possible. But a new Northwestern Medicine study -- one of the largest survivor studies ever conducted – shows many survivors still suffer moderate to severe problems with pain, fatigue, sleep, memory and concentration three to five years after treatment has ended....The persistent pain in survivors who are cancer-free and no longer receiving any treatment is particularly puzzling, [a study author] noted, because good treatment exists....Cancer survivors seem to slip through the cracks in healthcare in terms of getting treatment for their pain and other symptoms....Survivors need education programs for transitioning from treatment to life as a cancer survivor, and this education should include skills for managing these difficult and chronic symptoms....Medical providers also need to be educated about survivors' lingering symptoms. The study also pointed out the need to develop better ways to address sleep problems, fatigue and lasting difficulties with memory and concentration. Non-drug interventions for improving sleep are effective...and researchers need to tailor these for cancer survivors. Exercise is the most effective weapon against cancer-related fatigue, but it's challenging to adhere to an exercise regime when you don't feel well. "We need to see how we can be more effective in promoting physical activity among survivors," [a study author]  said.

All of this points to the increasing importance of the emerging subdiscipline of cancer survivorship. There is a journal devoted to this area ( Journal of Cancer Survivorship ). Here's a paragraph from the journal web page describing its goals:

Cancer survivorship is a worldwide trend; currently there are 10 million cancer survivors in the US alone. More and more cancer survivors are searching for legitimate sources of health information and educating themselves via the internet. In addition, the research in this area is growing rapidly and requires a forum. The Journal of Cancer Survivorship publishes basic research, clinical investigations and policy-related research that can impact the quality of care and quality of life of cancer survivors.

I suspect that the term "chemo brain" covers a broad group of patients and has both a psychological and physiologic basis (see: Chemotherapy's Damage To The Brain Detailed ). This will clearly be one of the major research targets as an increasing number of oncologists specialize in cancer survivorship and begin to aggregate patients for relevant research studies. As noted above, exercise and non-drug interventions for improving sleep have proven to be effective.

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