Can chemo brain be permanent?

They are some of the worst words you can hear: It’s cancer. With that diagnosis comes fear of the treatment, fear of the outcome, fear of mortality. When cancer runs in a family, patients are haunted by what they experienced with them. Fortunately, each year, treatment gets better and better and most cancer survivors survive to lead a long and happy life.

But, are there long-term consequences to the treatment?

Chemotherapy is toxic

It’s a sobering experience to watch your chemo nurse approach you, bag in hand, dressed in what looks like a hazmat suit. The reason for her garb? Chemotherapy drugs are toxic. When a bag slips and breaks, a toxic waste team cleans it up.

Given these facts, we wonder: does chemotherapy cure the cancer but create other long-term health issues? The answer, based on both older and recent studies, is a resounding yes.

What are the symptoms?

Cancer patients often report a symptom called “chemo brain.” This condition can cause a variety of symptoms and impairments including: Brain fog, inability to concentrate, sleep issues, inability to multi-task, lack of concentration and taking longer to complete tasks. Are these symptoms simply malingering? Are they due to the psychological struggles of cancer, or are they physical in nature?

According to both a 2011 and a 2017 study, chemo brain can be a permanent condition. Added to the long-term problems are surgery, radiation and other ancillary treatments that produce inflammation throughout the body. As stated by Dr. Eugene Ahn, a physician at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, it is the secondary inflammation that causes the symptoms.

What, then, is the outlook?

Long-term outlooks can be hard to swallow: most cancer survivors have permanent damage. This causes vocational issues when an employer cannot or will not accommodate the issues surrounding the patient’s impairments.


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