Chemo Brain Syndrome

Chemo Brain Syndrome

Chemo brain syndrome describes memory and thinking problems chemotherapy patients sometimes experience after treatment for cancer. Chemo brain syndrome is also called cognitive dysfunction or chemo fog. According to the American Cancer Society, research is ongoing to determine the exact cause of chemo brain syndrome and its effects. This information will help scientists determine ways to prevent or reduce the affects of chemo brain.


The exact cause of chemo brain is not known. Chemo brain syndrome could be caused by cancer, infection, depression or the chemotherapy drugs. Other cancer treatments like radiation therapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy may also be causes of chemo brain. Menopause, anemia, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety are also possible culprits. Regardless of the cause, 70 percent of people who receive chemotherapy will have symptoms of chemo brain, according to the American Cancer Society.


Patients with chemo brain syndrome complain of symptoms like forgetfulness and trouble concentrating. Being unusually disorganized, confused, difficulty learning new skills and fatigue are also reported. Feelings of mental fogginess, short attention span, difficulty multitasking and problems with visual and verbal memory are also signs. The duration of these symptoms vary from person to person and may only last a short time.

Risk Factors and Complications

Factors that can increase the risk of chemo brain in cancer survivors include brain cancer, chemotherapy along with radiation of the whole brain and chemotherapy delivered through the central nervous system. Higher than normal doses of radiation and radiation to the brain can also increase the risk of chemo brain syndrome. The severity of chemo brain syndrome will vary from person to person, as will the complications. Some sufferers can promptly return to work with few problems while others may experience difficulty performing tasks.

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Because it’s unclear specifically what causes chemo brain syndrome, and it usually goes away on its own, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms until they decrease. Some other complications of cancer treatment like anemia and insomnia can cause memory problems, so these issues are often addressed first. Thinking and memory exercises as well as stress relief techniques are used to treat memory problems. There is no approved medication for treatment of chemo brain syndrome but some patients find success with drugs like Ritalin, which is a drug typically prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

Alternative Remedies and Prevention

Before starting any alternative treatment regime, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits associated with homeopathic therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, supplements containing gingko show promise in treating memory problems in older adults. Gingko may have a reaction with drugs like blood thinners so you should discuss this risk with your doctor before taking any. Because the cause of chemo brain syndrome is unclear, no effective prevention methods have been determined. Researchers have found that higher doses of chemotherapy drugs create a higher risk for chemo brain. Since chemo brain generally disappears over time, doctors have chosen not to change proven effective chemotherapy regimens.