Some chemotherapy (chemo) treatments have been linked to problems with memory, learning, and thinking. This particular chemo side effect is often referred to as "chemo brain." Many patients will regain their normal abilities to think and remember after chemo stops, but these chemo side effects may continue in some patients. How chemo causes these problems is not known, but scientists are researching possible treatments to relieve this chemo side effect. Talk to your doctor and care team about your chemo regimen and ask if you should watch for this chemo side effect.

Managing "Chemo Brain"

There are things you can do to try to reduce the impact of "chemo brain" on your everyday life:

  • Minimize distractions when you need to complete tasks.
  • Use a daily organizer to help you remember appointments.
  • Record reminders on your answering machine.
  • Make lists of tasks you need to do and cross them off when you complete them.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Let your friends and family know if you are having trouble thinking and remembering. They can help by reminding you of important events and appointments.

Your problems with memory and concentration may improve once you complete your chemo treatment. However, for some patients, "chemo brain" can continue for years after treatment has stopped. Knowing which patients will have ongoing difficulties is hard to predict, since the way chemo causes these problems is not well understood.

Ask Your Doctor:

  • What are my chances for experiencing "chemo brain"?
  • What should I do if I experience problems with forgetting and concentrating?

 Print this worksheet 
 and bring it to your next doctor's visit.

A Closer Look: C.J.*
C.J. is a 43-year-old mother of three. She is undergoing very intense chemo for B-cell lymphoma in her gastrointestinal tract.
During her last cycle of chemo, she tells her doctor that she often feels confused and forgets things.
Her doctor tells her about chemo's central nervous system side effects. Because she is near the end of treatment, the hope is that these chemo side effects will resolve.
In the meantime, C.J.'s doctor suggests coping strategies such as taking notes during conversations and keeping a daily planner and to-do lists.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

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