ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind

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If you do not agree to such placement, do not provide the information. To proceed, simply complete the form below, and a link to the article will be sent by email on your behalf. Note: Please don't include any URLs in your comments, as they will be removed upon submission. We do not store details you enter into this form. Please see our privacy policy for more information. Click here to return to the Medical News Today home page. Many people who undergo chemotherapy will notice cognitive impairment and behavioral changes.

This might include difficulty with movement.

Chemo Brain & Fatigue

It can last for months or years, impacting people's quality of life following cancer treatment. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California recently conducted a study to find out exactly how and why chemotherapy agents affect the brain, and to see whether or not there is any way to block or reverse that effect. The results — which appear in the journal Cell — appear to indicate that methotrexate, a common chemotherapy drug, affects the normal functioning of three important types of cell present in the brain's white matter.

The scientists also report learning that a drug currently undergoing clinical trials for other uses can address these ill effects in a mouse model. Michelle Monje, "is a real and recognized syndrome. Specifically, chemo brain tends to severely affect children who have undergone cancer treatment. Monje and team believe that finding a way to address this problem could truly improve these children's lives. In the recent study, the researchers focused on three important types of cell that are present in the brain's white matter.

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These are:. When the scientists compared frontal lobe brain tissue collected postmortem from children who had received chemotherapy with tissue from children who had not, they saw that the former presented significantly fewer oligodendrocyte lineage cells. To understand why oligodendrocytes were not doing well in the chemotherapy-exposed brain, the researchers turned to young mouse models that they injected with methotrexate.

They aimed to replicate the dosage and practice performed in human cancer treatment, so they gave the mice three doses of the drug once per week.

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After a period of 4 weeks, the mice that received methotrexate had sustained damage to their oligodendrocyte precursor cells, which are the fresh cells that normally develop to replace oligodendrocytes that can no longer function. Following exposure to methotrexate, more precursor cells began to start the maturation process, but they remained stuck in an undeveloped state, unable to actually reach maturity. This was the case even 6 months after the mice's treatment with the chemotherapy drug.

This also impacted the thickness of myelin, and the mice even faced the same behavioral problems as people who undergo chemotherapy often do. These include motor impairment, anxiety , and problems with attention and memory. When they tried injecting oligodendrocyte precursor cells from the brains of healthy mice into those of the experimental mice, the investigators noticed that these cells also started the maturation process at higher rates, but they did not get stuck midway through this process.

This, the team suggests, meant that there were problems in the cells' environment following treatment, which stopped them from completing their normal process. The researchers next turned to study the microglia and found that these were abnormally active for at least 6 months following the chemotherapy treatment, thus interfering with the normal functioning of astrocytes and disrupting the healthy nutrition of neurons. However, when the researchers gave the experimental mice a drug whose effect was to selectively deplete microglia, this allowed the oligodendrocyte precursor cells to resume their normal process of maturation; it stopped astrocyte disruption and renewed normal myelin thickness.

Side Effects: Chemobrain | MD Anderson Cancer Center

Also, this approach reversed numerous cognitive impairment symptoms in the mice that received the new drug. Monje, adding, "Every major neural cell type is affected in this pathophysiology. It's an exciting moment," she concludes. MNT is the registered trade mark of Healthline Media. Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

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I had just begun summer classes at Florida State University when a few subtle but persistent symptoms emerged: loss of appetite and a cough that would not go away. I also had some pain in my lungs when I turned in bed.

Attention, Thinking, or Memory Problems

The student clinic staff at the university was only mildly concerned when they read that my blood oxygen was low, but when the ER technician who took my chest x-ray glanced at the images and saw a heart-sized tumor behind my breastbone, she asked if I knew why I was here. We had to make our way through 40 minutes of traffic to get to the post office. My mother had a strange way of celebrating my birthday. She wanted to mail my medical leave of absence to the university where I had been a student for five weeks. She got out of the car and made her way to my door. When she opened it, I lifted my leg as hard as I could with whatever muscles were working. I managed to lift my leg over the running board and tried to make my foot meet concrete with grace. But I collapsed onto my mom. She poured me back into my seat. The paralysis made my limbs feel more like a liquid than a solid. Even if I completely applied myself, any movement of my leg lagged behind my intentions.

It was a dead load. I felt the heaviness of my limb but none of its animation. And my right arm was quickly joining my leg. Rush hour was no match for my panicked mother.

NHSGGC - Cancer-related cognitive changes (chemobrain)

We made it back to the hospital in less than 20 minutes. There, a resident doctor asked me to touch my nose and then to touch her pointed index finger just inches from my face. We were all horrified when my finger slammed into my cheek, shot through the air and drew circles around her finger. It took all of my concentration to land it on the tip of hers. Leukoencephalopathy was written on my chart.

What is chemo brain?

The doctors attributed it to methotrexate, a foundational chemotherapy treatment for blood cancers that I'd been given. It was supposed to stay in the fluid that bathed my spine, killing any potentially dormant cancer cells that could wake up after remission and sprout tumors in my brain. It wreaked havoc on my brain's white matter and stole my movements.

I had lost my hair, my friends, and had forgotten what it felt like to wake in the morning without pain. I did not know if there was much left to lose, and yet here was this new insult. Luckily, the paralysis lasted just two days. One of my nurses teared up when she saw me walk out of my room with a healthy gait — as if the paralysis had never occurred.

But there are more subtle scars of that birthday on my brain. By all medical accounts, I am now a healthy year-old college student in full remission. I am finally a survivor. Four years later, I tried to repeat the name of my neurological event to Dr. Meadows nodded and scribbled it down during her assessment. Why was I here, at an appointment that took months to book and even longer to realize I needed?

Back in college — now at Boston University — the last year and a half have been a struggle.

As a student who excelled in high school, I know the difference between earning an A and a B. In my first semester at BU, I aimed for the A. I went to lectures, read the textbooks cover-to-cover, went to office hours, completed the study guides. My friends, on the other hand, only sat in on lectures and skimmed the book when it came time to complete the study guides. Yet I noticed that they got A's and B's as I flipped through my test booklet and came upon my own grade: a D. I had done everything I could think of to prepare, and yet I severely under-performed. I thought that maybe I just had to relearn how to learn.

It had been a while since I was in an academic setting, let alone a competitive school. There had to be a learning curve. I grew frustrated and disillusioned but I denied my academic struggles as I had denied my unmoving leg in traffic years earlier.

ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind

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