A study led by scientists at West Virginia University School of Medicine and exposed today at the congress of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), shows that chemotherapy affects the brain causing concentration and memory disorders most of all.
Researchers have used positron emission tomography (PET) along with computed tomography (CT) in an attempt to reveal a chemotherapy affected brain's physiological characteristics.
“The chemo brain phenomenon is described as 'mental fog' and 'loss of coping skills' by patients who receive chemotherapy,” declared Dr. Rachel A. Lagos, resident at the West Virginia University School, as cited by EurekAlert
“Because this is such a common patient complaint, healthcare providers have generically referred to its occurrence as 'chemo brain' for more than two decade,” she went on saying.
Although the dysfunctions caused by chemo stand as common one, no sufficiently justified causes were found for it.
As a consequence, the West Virginia University research team, led by Dr. Lagos, decided to switch observations from the structural aspects of the brain to the functional ones.
The experiment consisted of observing 128 patients who have experimented chemotherapy for breast cancer. PET/CT have been used to determine the brain metabolism condition before and after chemotherapy.
“When we looked at the results, we were surprised at how obvious the changes were,” explained Dr. Lagos.
“Chemo brain phenomenon is more than a feeling. It is not depression. It is a change in brain function observable on PET/CT brain imaging.”
The study has shown a considerably lower activity of the brain metabolism in the areas where the “chemo brain” disorder was detected.
“The study shows that there are specific areas of the brain that use less energy following chemotherapy. These brain areas are the ones known to be responsible for planning and prioritizing,” said Dr. Lagos.
However grave the situation of people under chemotherapy, scientists believe that further research and medication development would make certain amelioration possible.
“The next step is to establish a prospective study that begins assessing new patients at the time of cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Lagos concluded.
“The prospective study has the potential to establish an understanding of the change in brain neurotransmitters during chemotherapy, which may lead to improved treatment or prevention.”