Two years ago The New York Times published an article dealing with chemo brain, a type of mental fog experienced by cancer patients. Recent research has indicated that this phenomenon might be more widespread than previously believed.
While memory and concentration problems are common among chemotherapy patients, for most these effects are short-term and their cognitive function returns to normal. However, for about 15 percent of these patients the memory impairment is prolonged. It is these patients who are suffering from chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment, or “chemo brain”.
Many studies are being done to try and pin down the cause of chemo brain. Some researchers are exploring whether there is a connection between hormonal changes from chemotherapy and chemo brain, while others are examining which drugs have the strongest links to chemo brain. Yet there are some therapists who argue that chemo brain is the result of the psychological strain of cancer and can be attributed to anxiety, depression, stress, fatigue and fear rather than direct effects of chemotherapy on the brain.
While chemo brain manifests itself in cancer patients to varying degrees, it can make returning to one’s regular routine very difficult. Take the example of a Chicago woman who reported diminished cognitive function after receiving chemotherapy for her ovarian cancer. Her symptoms included an inability to focus, inability to retain information and names, a difficulty retrieving well-known words, inability to analyze anything beyond simple questions, and an inability to follow instructions, even while cooking.
Pauline Maki of the University of Illinois-Chicago reports findings in women who have had estrogen levels lowered because of chemotherapy to have diminshed cognitive function as a result.
A middle-aged non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor was forced to quit his job as a diagnostic radiologist because of the numerous mistakes he was making at work. He forgot fundamental things not only at work, but in his day-to-day life, too. In fact he reported that he would often go to the grocery store with his wife, pack the groceries into the car, and then drive off without remembering to take his wife.
While the prospect of suffering these cognitive deficits as a result of chemotherapy is of course daunting, it is important to stress that for the majority of cancer patients chemotherapy is an important element of their treatment. Currently there is no way to know the level of chemo brain a given patient will suffer, if any. Until the cause of chemo brain is known there is little hope of preventing or treating it.
For over 30 years Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases, including those involving a failure to diagnose cancer, serving those areas in and around Cook County including Lake Forest, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Hazel Crest.