When cancer treatment causes 'chemo brain'

Chemotherapy room
A nurse is working in a room where patients undergo chemotherapy treatment, on February 6, 2013, at the Oscar Lambret Center in Lille, northern France.
PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

The American Society of Clinical Oncology released a study last week suggesting the number of cancer cases will increase in the next 16 years. The study also noted the number of survivors will increase too.

One of the effects of treatment is known as "chemo brain," or mild cognitive impairment. This happens when chemotherapy patients experience fogginess or difficulty with cognitive tasks that were once easy for them.

"While I was going through chemotherapy, the phrase 'mild cognitive impairment' did not pertain to the stupefaction I experienced at forgetting a close friend's name," wrote Susan Gubar for The New York Times. "I found myself bewildered about what task had led me to my university office and then lost on the way home. I had to enact a convoluted guessing game to get my husband to provide the word 'egg.' On more than one occasion, it became apparent that one of my daughters was confiding in me, but about what?"

Just as you'd do follow-up physical therapy for a hip replacement, you can do follow-up therapy for chemotherapy treatment and manage the symptoms that alter a patient's daily life.

More from the Star Tribune:

Joette Zola, an occupational therapist at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, has been working with cancer survivors who suffer from the condition...

Often patients experience frustration and a sense of helplessness at not being able to complete tasks they once did with ease. But through physical therapy, and teaching patients time-management skills and how to cope with physical symptoms from cancer, Zola has seen a dramatic turnaround in her patients.

"We are not focusing on making the brain better," she said. "We are trying to help people understand what is going on with them."

On The Daily Circuit, we discuss some of the symptoms of chemo brain and the latest research on therapies to improve the lives of cancer survivors.

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