“Chemo Brain” Is Actually PTSD, Study

“Chemo brain” or “chemo fog” has long been recognized as real but new research suggests that the forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, inability to multi-task and that odd “spacey” sensation may not be the result of chemotherapy. Instead, say researchers, it may well be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, instead.

This study looked specifically at newly diagnosed breast cancer patients age 65 and under. The patients were divided into groups and then followed for a year. In all, 166 cancer patients and 60 healthy control volunteers were assessed.

The cancer patients, regardless of whether they had received chemo or not, consistently demonstrated a certain cognitive decline, even after a year.

The study was published online at the website for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and will be carried in the journal’s October issue.

Is Chemo Brain Real?

“Chemo brain” is absolutely treated as a real side effect of cancer treatment–and it’s long been known to also affect patients whose cancers were not treated with chemotherapy.

Cancer experts say that symptoms of “chemo fog” can include things like:

  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Difficulty doing more than one thing at a time
  • Forgetting important dates, names and places
  • Needing more time to do even simple tasks
  • Difficulty finding the right words when speaking

Things That Can Contribute to Chemo Brain

This is a phenomenon that is poorly understood. Currently it is believed that “chemo brain” is more complicated than just having chemo. Some contributing factors are thought to include things like:

  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Poor nutrition
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Fatigue

How Common Is Chemo Brain?

Exact numbers are hard to come by but a 2016 American study published in the journal Handbook of Clinical Neurology suggests that your risk of developing “chemo fog” will vary according to which type of cancer you’re battling.  A good ballpark figure seems to fall at around 75% for some groups.


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