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Is chemo brain always to blame for cognitive decline?

Is chemo brain always to blame for cognitive decline?
12th April 2012

Chemo brain is not always to blame for the cognitive decline experienced by many women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

This is the opinion of Dr Stephanie Reid-Arndt, associate professor and chair of the Health Psychology Department of University of Missouri School of Health Professions.

Women that have chemotherapy to treat breast cancer often note a decrease in verbal fluency and a loss of memory and attention - a phenomenon that has become known as chemo brain.

However, Dr Reid-Arndt claims that in many cases chemotherapy is not the cause of this decreased cognitive function.

The discovery was made when researchers found that females who had yet to undergo cancer treatment but have had surgery also had the same mental deficits as women with chemo brain.

It was found that there was an association between those who were stressed and had passive coping strategies and those likely to experience cognitive decline.

"Women who reported higher stress levels also performed lower on memory and attention tests," Dr Reid-Arndt said.

"It appeared that passive coping strategies, such as denial, disengagement and helplessness, contributed to this relationship."

The findings highlight that psychological intervention and treatment for cancer patients could be key in limiting side effects of chemotherapy.

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