Long Term Effects Of Chemotherapy And Cognitive Impairment

1448 words - 6 pages

Chemotherapy induced cognitive impairment, otherwise known in colloquial terms chemo brain or chemo fog, is now a widely researched topic stemming from the increased utilization of chemotherapy in patients suffering from cancer. While it is known that certain types of cancers are treated with specific types of chemotherapy drugs or an array of drugs, no two cancers are alike. For example, someone that has been diagnosed with a glandular type of cancer would receive drug X, but another patient with the same type of cancer could receive drug Y. The difference between the two patients relies on a myriad of other outlying factors that are based on the patient’s levels of tolerance. The drug itself is designed to react and eventually kill the fast growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, the cancer cells are not the only ones to feel this effect. Commonly understood “collateral damage” also takes place in the forms of alopecia (hair loss), nausea, vomiting, immunologic complications (low white blood cell count), loss of bone density and so forth. These types of physical ailments are almost always discussed during the “Pretreatment” counseling and are often relieved by other combinations of drugs. The one ailment that a patient is rarely educated on is the potential of long-term cognitive impairment induced by chemotherapy.
According to the American Cancer Society (American Cancer Society, 2014), approximately 1.6 million new patients will be diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Unfortunately, roughly 1:2 men and 1:3 women will suffer the sting of cancer. During a workshop held in Alberta, Canada in 2003, data gathered from one group of oncologists reveled that 21 out of 28 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and were treated with chemotherapy reported some form of cognitive impairment up to 180 days following their last treatment. (Ian F. Tannock, 2004) The Canadian workshop also concluded “Current studies indicate that cognitive deficits are often subtle, although they are observed consistently in a proportion of patients, may be durable, and can be disabling. Deficits have been observed in a range of cognitive functions.” (Ian F. Tannock, 2004). Studies conducted by van Dam et al. (van Dam, 1998) found that breast cancer patients that received regular high-dose chemotherapy compared to those patients receiving a lower or standard dose of chemotherapy were over eight times as likely to have a noticeable impairment in cognition. But, it isn’t just the chemo that links cognitive impairment to cancer treatment. Tim Ahles, a cognitive psychologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York also stated, “There are issues like age, stress, anxiety and depression that can factor in. If anything, it has become more complicated than we realized” (Hede, 2008).
Up to this point we know that chemotherapy kills fast growing cells, but when we look at the brain or more notable the neurons that make up the brain, we know that those cells...

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