…Not Your Imagination

Cognitive impairment, often termed “chemobrain”, occurs in 10-40% of all cancer patients, and is an emerging target of cancer survivorship research. A recent study reviewed published studies to explore the impact of chemobrain on the quality of life of breast cancer survivors. The authors reviewed 457 papers, and found 7 studies that were relevant to breast cancer survivors and met their study requirements. Using a systematic approach, data from the 7 studies was extracted and then synthesized.

The authors found that chemobrain, or mild cognitive impairment, is commonly reported by breast cancer survivors who receive chemotherapy. Women report chemobrain to be a struggle with short and long term memory, information processing speed, attention span, concentration and language skills. The experience may be compounded by fatigue, mood changes, change in hormonal or menopausal status and lack of social support. Breast cancer survivors describe chemobrain as frustrating, upsetting and frightening. Most report that the onset is during chemotherapy, and most reported that they continue to have issues after completion of treatment.  Chemobrain affects all aspects of life, including roles at home and at work and in social situations. Breast cancer patients often found healthcare providers to be insensitive and they did not validate women’s experiences with chemobrain. Patients suggest that more support would have helped them recognize and prepare for cognitive changes. Instead, women were left to find their own strategies to help them cope with daily living and work function, including opting for healthy lifestyle, physical and mental activities, practical reminders, technology.

Current research on women’s experiences with chemobrain provides consistent support that it is real, persistent and has detrimental impacts on quality of life. The authors conclude that a greater awareness of the effects of chemobrain with improved functional assessment and interventions is warranted.

Having problems with chemobrain? Talk to our TurningPoint counselor to develop a  plan to manage the impact of chemobrain on your life!

Selamat, MH et al. Chemobrain experienced by breast cancer survivors: a meta-ethnography study investigating research and care implications. PLoS One. 2014 Sep 26;9(9):e108002. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108002. eCollection 2014.