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Chemobrain, a Side Effect of Chemotherapy

Coping During and After Treatment


Updated June 12, 2012

Chemotherapy has many side effects, which differ in severity for each patient. Since chemo travels to each cell in the body via the bloodstream, it also can affect your thinking. If you've had chemotherapy and experienced these symptoms below, you may have had "chemobrain."
  • short-term memory loss
  • difficulty concentrating
  • struggling to make simple decisions
  • difficulty finding the right words
  • trouble doing several tasks at once (multitasking)
  • feeling mentally slow or dull
Some of these symptoms may be caused by other things, such as: Chemobrain isn't "just in your head," say oncologists and researchers. "Now there's enough literature, even if it's controversial, that not mentioning it as a possibility is either ignorant or an evasion of professional duty," said Dr. Daniel Silverman, a cancer researcher at UCLA, and co-author of Your Brain After Chemo.

Although the effects of chemotherapy may linger while you are recovering, chemobrain usually tapers off. Some breast cancer patients continue to feel the effects years later, though it is not yet known why approximately 15 percent of survivors do not fully recover their cognitive abilities.

Chemobrain Relief Strategies

Here are some things you can do to cope with chemobrain during treatment:
  • take hot tub soaks or hot showers
  • drink water, about eight ounces per hour during the day
  • do gentle exercise such as yoga, tai chi, or walking
  • try acupuncture treatments
  • keep lists of important things
  • rest at regular times
  • talk to other survivors
After treatment ends, try these strategies:
  • try swimming or water aerobics
  • increase your activity levels slowly
  • find an exercise buddy and have regular gym dates
  • treat yourself to a good massage
  • do memory exercises (crossword puzzles, sudoku, number-based games)
  • start new routines (regular schedule, organize drawers and shelves)
  • practice good sleep hygiene
  • eat a healthy diet

Chemobrain and Medical Solutions

Chemotherapy for breast cancer lowers your estrogen levels dramatically, and can cause premature and instant menopause. In 2004, a study funded by the Komen Foundation found that chemobrain was one of the five most commonly reported symptoms associated with chemo, second only to hot flashes.

If you are experiencing chemobrain, you may want to talk to your oncologist or family doctor about it. Make notes of the specific kinds of memory problems you are dealing with, so you can clearly describe the symptoms. Solutions may take the form of medications, diet changes, or an exercise plan.


Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion. New York Times. Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion. Last Updated: April 29, 2007. Health.

Managing Life After Treatment. Cure, Beyond Survival. Managing Life After Treatment. Last Updated: Fall 2004.

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