Barb’s mother didn’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia. And she was just 62. But still, she clearly wasn’t “all there.”
Barb told me they were once talking about a minor car accident on their street. Her mom asked, “Was the moon one of the cars in that accident?”
Barb said, “The moon?” Then her mom laughed… “Oh no. That couldn’t be.”
On another day, her mom announced, out of nowhere… “A maraschino cherry takes 10 years to digest!”
That was more than 25 years ago. Back then, I doubt anyone had conceived of the term “chemobrain.” But, since she was being treated for lung cancer, that’s probably what was happening.
Today, chemobrain is more formally known as “post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment” (PCCI). But whatever term you use, don’t be surprised if your doctor has never heard of it.
Dr. Spreen recently sent me a chemobrain article. It’s a tip sheet on how to talk to your doctor about this condition.
I’ll let Dr. Spreen describe it…
“They admit the drugs can harm your brain. Then, they tell you (the PATIENT, now) that the DOCTOR may not be familiar with it. And you (again, the PATIENT) will have to educate him (the ONCOLOGIST) about what it is. And THEN you’re supposed to ask him what can be done about it!”
Yes, it’s just as ridiculous as Dr. Spreen makes it sound.
The sad thing is that most cancer patients, and many of their doctors, have never heard of this chemo side effect. This is a holdover from the days when doctors told patients their post-chemo brain fog was imagined.
It’s not imagined. It’s not psychosomatic.
But it IS “all in your head.”
In 2006, a groundbreaking study used PET scans to prove that chemo poses a risk to cognition. This happens in two ways. After crossing the blood brain barrier, these toxic drugs alter brain metabolism and reduce blood flow in the brain.
And ready for the kicker? In some patients, these adverse effects can still be measured more than TWO DECADES after treatment has ended.
Cognitive problems include attention deficit, immediate and delayed verbal memory, and processing speed.
Of course, doctors have thrown all types of drugs at the problem. They’ve tried drugs that treat Alzheimer’s, ADHD, anemia, and narcolepsy. So far, none of them has worked.
But there is one study that shows promise. It will cause medical mainstreamers to howl. But what I care about is that it’s likely to cause cheers from cancer patients.
I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.
“Doctor, Can We Talk About Chemobrain?” Chemotherapy Advisor, 8/27/12, chemotherapyadvisor.com
“Scientists Find ‘Chemo Brain’ No Figment Of The Imagination” Science Daily, 10/8/06, sciencedaily.com
“‘Chemo brain’ linked to neurobiological mechanism” HemOnc Today, 5/10/12, healio.com