Friday, November 18, 2011

Cancer Itself May Contribute to Brain Fog. Chemo Makes It Worse, Says a Stanford Study

And now we have more evidence that chemo brain is real.

In the latest study published this week in Archives of Neurology, researchers at Stanford University found that women with breast cancer (regardless of whether they had surgery and chemotherapy, or just surgery alone), experienced reduced activity in parts of the brain responsible for working memory, planning and attention.
This suggests that disease itself may play a role in what we’ve come to know as “chemo brain.”

We discuss several similar studies in “Your Brain After Chemo.” The most well known to factor disease into the chemo brain equation was published in the journal Cancer in 2004 by a team out of M. D. Anderson. In that study, researchers found that about one-third of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients showed cognitive impairment prior to starting chemotherapy. That number nearly doubled upon retesting the group at the completion of chemo.

In the Stanford study, what is significant is that the women who also received chemotherapy were even MORE impaired in these areas, PLUS they had additional deficits. Patients in the chemo group made more errors in recognizing patterns in a problem-solving task, even when they took extra time to complete it.

Generally, women with more advanced disease receive chemotherapy. So the puzzle is, what part of these deficits is due to the chemo versus the cancer itself? Whatever the answer, the authors state this: “This study provides further evidence that primary breast cancer may cause measurable brain injury. Women treated with chemotherapy may show additional prefrontal deficits and have difficulty compensating…").


  1. Pretty scary stuff, Idelle, don't you think? For those of us who can't function at "pre-treatment" levels no matter how diligent we are in employing all of the tricks, this is validating. The study that was done in Rochester and then sited by Christina Meyers about the physiological damage in the brains of rats who were injected with fluorouracil was equally disturbing. None of this would make me change the choices I made for my own treatment. I choose the best odds for a long life. What it has done, however, is propel my efforts towards advocating for the research that will lead us to eradicating breast cancer. I want better for my daughter.

    Hope you are well.....

    Best to you,


  2. Hi AnneMarie,

    I couldn't have said it better!

    We need to encourage researchers to find the actual mechanism behind these memory and other cognitive problems. We need them to find safer drugs that will cure our bodies while leaving our minds intact.

    By the way, there has been lots of press about the Stanford study and it’s well deserved. But I shake my head when I see news headlines claiming that this study confirms that chemo brain exists. The medical community has known it exists for quite some time. The Rochester study you've referred to was one of those very, very important pioneering studies and that was published in 2005. I wrote a blog post about the Rochester scientists. I call them my “research rock stars!” You’ll find it at

    Finally, here’s a plug for AnneMarie’s wonderful blog: “CHEMOBRAIN.....In The Fog With AM from BC 2 AD. How chemotherapy saved my body and rearranged my brain...” It’s terrific and I hope you’ll check it out!