Cognitive dysfunction, also known as “chemo brain,” is a commonly reported symptom of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The symptoms of cognitive dysfunction were originally thought to be caused by the emotional toll of cancer treatment, but researchers now know that it is not imaginary. The care team will rule out other causes, like hyperthyroidism, depression, and anxiety, before proceeding with treatment for cognitive dysfunction.
The effects of chemo brain are cumulative, meaning if a patient has more chemotherapy, they likely have more symptoms of cognitive dysfunction. These side effects can last long after treatment for some patients, but many see improvements once treatment is completed.
While there are some treatments for cognitive dysfunction, there are no quick fixes. Some of the same techniques used for patients with brain dysfunction can be used to train and strengthen the brain prior to and during chemotherapy treatment, thereby mitigating the side effects. There are currently no medications that specifically treat this side effect, although some medications for other dysfunctions can sometimes be effective.