"Chemo Brain" a Myth?

Chemotherapy linked to less cognitive impairment in older women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People undergoing chemotherapy often blame their forgetfulness and mental sluggishness on what's called"chemo brain." New research finds no link in older breast cancer patients.

Several small clinical trials have associated chemotherapy with later cognitive decline. A new study of older women diagnosed with breast cancer disputes those findings. The findings showed no significant incresed risk of cognitive impairment up to 16 years following chemotherapy.

"Chemotherapy decreases risk of cognitive problems in some older women."

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center used the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End-Results (SEER) database. The study group inluded 62,565 women aged 65 or older diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Participants didn't show any signs of cognitive decline at the time they were diagnosed. A group of 9,752 women had received chemotherapy were matched with an equal number who did not receive this treatment.

After taking into account age and tumor characteristics, researchers found the eight percent drug-induced dementia increase not to be significant. They found the same to be true for a possible 15 percent decline in unspecified cognitive disorders, classified as not otherwise specified (NOS)

Looking at the overall study group, data suggests that the women who did receive chemotherapy were 23-28 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, or other dementias/dementia NOS than women not treated with chemotherapy.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Review Date: 
July 11, 2011
Last Updated:
July 14, 2011