Cancer survivors still struggle with 'chemo brain'

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on March 17, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 17 at 6:08 PM

More than 13 million Americans are living with some form of cancer. Harsh treatments like chemo and radiation save lives, but they also come with side effects. One such side effect is "chemo brain."

"I just felt like my mind was muddled," said Deborah Binder, cancer survivor.
 
"I'd ask my husband for the milk when I was meaning to ask for a banana," said Janet Freeman-Daily, cancer survivor.
 
Dr. Monique Cherrier from the University of Washington School of Medicine has studied chemo brain.

"It generally refers to people who have some kind of cognitive difficulty following cancer treatment," she said.

It’s not just chemo – it includes radiation, hormone therapy and surgery as well.
 
Now UW researchers are studying whether cognitive training can help. Patients attend group session for seven weeks to learn proven memory strategies.
 
"We're actually seeing some nice activation pattern changes in the brain," Cherrier said.
 
Afterwards, you can see the pattern of brain activation in a brain scan indicated by more blue areas, which suggests patients are processing information more efficiently.
 
One of Freeman-Daily's favorite memory exercises is the "memory palace." You picture a room in your house and visually place an object in that room to help you remember it.

"When I want to recall it, I just go back up and walk through the house and that image is there in the entry, and it reminds me of what it is that I'm trying to remember," she said.
 
Binder said learning to group numbers together helped her.
 
"I feel like it's getting better, but I don't feel like I'm where I was before I was diagnosed," she added.
 
Other factors like lack of sleep, stress and depression can make chemo brain worse. In a 2012 study of women before and after breast-cancer treatment, those with the highest stress levels were affected the most.

For more information on the “chemo brain” study or to participate, call (206) 667-7235 or email wellness@uw.edu

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