Patients diagnosed with Chemotherapy often see Chemo as a life saving agent. However, the cognitive deficits that are the result of the medicine leave some major memory deficits that cancer survivors even call “Chemo Brain” Some of the symptoms of Chemo brain are memory issues, sleep problems, forgetting words mid stream, misplacing things and inability to multitask.
Researchers continue to shed light on the effect that chemo brain — given that name only in the past dozen years or so — has on cancer survivors.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published online a study from the University of California, Los Angeles. Researchers who evaluated 189 early-stage breast cancer patients post-treatment (radiation and/or chemotherapy) found a strong link between patients’ self-reported complaints of changes in memory and thinking and data from neuropsychological testing that showed those changes.
A study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in early 2012 found lingering cognitive effects of chemotherapy in some breast cancer patients as long as 20 years after treatment.
At the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute oncologist Dr. Halle Moore presented the results of a small pilot study that showed the EEG to be a good measuring tool in documenting the impact of chemo brain on changes in brain function.
“Chemo brain is real,” said Dr. Fremonta Meyer, a psychiatrist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and co-author of Alvarez’s study who helped interpret the data.
Among the patients she sees are those with post-cancer cognitive problems that may sound like the effects of normal aging or menopause. But difficulty finding words, short-term memory loss, problems sleeping and the inability to multitask effectively are all things that can be the result of chemo brain, she said.
Majority of the Neurofeedback modalities are utilized for conditions where we are specifically able to localize the regions in which the condition exists. But no one knows what the electrical “signature” of chemo brain is, so researcher Alvarez used another type of neurofeedback equipment that addresses the brain as an integrated system, making the specific location of the problem less important. We utilize a system at Healthy Within which addresses the brain as an integrated system.
Alvarez, director of research at the newly incorporated Cleveland-based Applied Brain Research Foundation of Ohio, began enrolling breast cancer patients for the study in early 2010.
Twenty-three women, who ranged in age from 43 to 70 and who had completed treatment for breast cancer, received biofeedback in 45-minute sessions, twice a week for 10 weeks. The time from the last chemotherapy treatment to the start of the biofeedback ranged from six months to five years.
The study participants were given four different self-reporting tests for 10 weeks that measured cognitive function; fatigue, energy level and quality of life; sleep quality and disturbances; and somatization (when mental factors such as stress cause physical symptoms), depression and anxiety.
Over a second 10-week period, the participants received neurofeedback twice a week, for 33 minutes a session, and continued the self-reporting tests. Four weeks after the last neurofeedback session, the women completed one final self-reporting test.
What Alvarez found was that the treatment did help relieve symptoms of PCCI, or chemo brain, and it did help other patients return to the level of function they had prior to starting chemotherapy.
Chemo brain symptoms were reversed in 21 of the 23 women!