Monday, January 23, 2012

What’s Another Name for Chemo Brain?

We follow the New York Times style guidelines and spell it as two words: chemo brain. I’ve also seen it as one word: chemobrain, or chemo-brain.  Others call it, “chemonesia,” or “cancer brain fog.”
If I were to call it something else, I’d just say, “fog” or “cancer fog.” I don’t think you need to say, “brain." Why be redundant?
In fact, “chemo brain,” doesn’t always mean you've had chemo.  I know thyroid cancer and breast cancer patients who've had surgery and radiation only and they still report feeling like a planet of haze has taken over their brains.

And therein lies what’s so fascinating by this “chemo brain” concept.  Studies have consistently shown that about one-third of patients experience some amount of memory and other cognitive impairments even before they go through any kind of treatment, including chemotherapy.  Researchers believe that having cancer itself may contribute to the fog as the body fights the disease and is under stress from inflammatory molecules.

It’s also hard for scientists to tease out other contributors, like radiation, anesthesia from surgery, steroids, pain killers, and hormonal therapies.

Adding to the mystery of what’s going on, once these patients then begin chemotherapy, their memory problems get worse before they get better.

That’s why experts who study the field of cancer and cognition avoid the term, “chemo brain,” and call it "cancer or cancer-treatment related cognitive impairment."

That mouthful may be more precise, but "chemo brain" has become shorthand for the fog so many of us have experienced.  I'm happy to leave it at that. 


  1. Chemobrain, no matter how it's spelled.... hyphenated, dressed up, initials.... I'm with you. Those of us WITH chemobrain could never remember that whole phrase anyway!!!

    This made me giggle!

  2. cancer or cancer-treatment what? Don't they know to name these things names that people suffering from can actually remember?

  3. I'm with you, AnneMarie and Brandie!

  4. With all the toxic drugs, you will natually get foggy.