Friday, November 18, 2011
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…").