Chemo brain is an emerging topic that relates to memory loss or cognitive dysfunction in those that have under gone chemotherapy for cancer. Is chemo brain relevant to addiction recovery?
Post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment (also known as chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, chemo brain or chemo fog) describes the cognitive impairment that can result from chemotherapy treatment.
Approximately 20-30% of people who undergo chemotherapy experience some level of post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment. The phenomenon first came to light because of the large number of breast cancer survivors who complained of changes in memory, fluency, and other cognitive abilities that impeded their ability to function as they had pre-chemotherapy.
The concept of chemo brain is not a well known one in the addiction recovery field. My interest was sparked because I am a cancer survivor, having gone through extensive chemotherapy within the last 2 years and am also in long-term addiction recovery.
Mayo Clinic states that "Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, cognitive changes or cognitive dysfunction."
Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it's misleading. It's not yet clear that chemotherapy is the cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. And many cancer survivors with memory problems still score well on cognitive tests, leaving doctors wondering whether chemo brain really exists.
Despite the many questions, it's clear that the memory problems commonly called chemo brain can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment. More study is needed to understand this condition. They further list these symptoms:
Signs and symptoms of chemo brain may include:
- Being unusually disorganized
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Difficulty learning new skills
- Difficulty multitasking
- Feeling of mental fogginess
- Short attention span
- Short-term memory problems
- Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks
- Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation
- Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words
Signs and symptoms of cognitive or memory problems vary from person to person and are typically temporary, often subsiding within two years of completion of cancer treatment.
"Addiction professionals can and should be involved along with neuropsychologists in assessment of problems relative to brain function, and develop with the patient strategies toward memory recovery and improvement, such as memory aids and the strengthening of cognitive skills. Counselors also can assist the patient in working through emotional distress.
Counselors and others performing substance abuse evaluations and assessments should include questions such as: Have you ever had cancer? Have you received chemotherapy as a treatment? If so, how long ago and how many treatments? What symptoms did you have during your chemotherapy? Have there been any persistent symptoms since your treatment? When a patient presents with cognitive complaints, the problems can be evaluated for intervention when an overall understanding exists of chemotherapy-related cognitive changes based on a conceptual model that continues to be informed through well-conceptualized and well-designed research.
For the individual undergoing chemotherapy at the time of treatment for addiction, it is imperative that the addiction professional know which drugs the client is being given in order to understand and treat symptoms that might overlap during addiction recovery."