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Breast Cancer Patients Suffer Brain Issues After Chemotherapy

Posted by floriza in Breast Care Center

In a study published in November 2011 in the Archives of Neurology, researchers detected brain changes in patients who were treated with chemotherapy as a result of breast cancer. The brain changes were discovered during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

For years, patients have complained that they have experienced deficits in thinking after chemotherapy, but many oncologists and breast care center professionals were reluctant to believe these problems were real. Studies are beginning to show that there is a medical basis for these cognitive difficulties, however, beyond simply stress.

Details of the Study

For the study, 62 women participated, 25 of which had experienced chemotherapy after a breast cancer diagnosis. Nineteen of the women had breast cancer but did not undergo chemotherapy, and the remaining 18 were women who had never had breast cancer or chemotherapy.

The functional MRIs were undertaken while the women sorted cards. This allowed the researchers to measure “prefrontal brain activation.” Both groups of women with a history of breast cancer showed less “activation of the left middle dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and premotor cortex” than the women who had never had breast cancer. The 25 women who had also been given chemotherapy treatments showed less “activation of the left caudal lateral prefrontal cortex.” These women were also slower at performing the task and were more likely to commit errors.

The researchers determined that the women whose breast cancer had been more severe reported worse cognitive deficits, indicating that the extent of the disease also correlates with severity of the brain changes.

The researchers found that age and activity made patients more vulnerable to these brain changes. For example, the older the patient, the more likely post-chemotherapy difficulties surfaced. Physical and mental activity also play a part. Patients who remain mentally active develop more brain capacity and are, therefore, less likely to experience these deficits.

Benefits of the Study

As a result of the study, after more research is conducted to confirm the findings and shed more light on this phenomenon, strategies may be created to assist breast cancer survivors to help them manage these difficulties. The research can also predict which women are likely to experience problems after chemotherapy treatments. Functional MRIs can be an important predictor in these cases.

As a result of this study, breast care centers in New Jersey, New York, and other areas may eventually begin to examine patients prior to chemotherapy treatments to determine if these brain changes are likely. If so, steps can be taken to try to offset the effects and help patients prepare for and manage these functional deficits after chemotherapy.

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