Living with cancer blog

Tips for taking on chemo brain symptoms

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. April 10, 2010

After cancer treatment, some individuals may experience thinking and memory problems, also known as chemo brain. It's not clear what causes chemo brain; however, some causes may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and surgery.

Consequences of cancer treatment, such as low blood counts, fatigue, infection, menopause, poor nutrition and sleep issues, may also trigger symptoms. As a cancer survivor, you may be experiencing memory changes as a result of cancer treatment. Even though there's no clear definition of chemo brain, the medical community recognizes this is a problem that does occur.

Chemo brain symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, multi-tasking or finding the right word
  • Being unusually disorganized
  • Shorter attention span
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation
  • Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words

These symptoms can begin during cancer treatment and continue for many months and sometimes years after treatment.

Here are a few ideas to help manage changes in memory:

  • Exercise your brain. Try crossword puzzles or number games.
  • Maintain a regular schedule.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Stress can contribute to memory and concentration problems.
  • Find ways to stay organized. Use calendars or planners. Make lists and maintain an organized work space.
  • Take frequent breaks. Divide tasks into manageable portions and take a break each time one part is completed.
  • Exercise your body. Moderate exercise can help with stress, fatigue and depression.
  • Get enough rest.

Chemo brain can be frustrating and difficult to deal with emotionally and physically.

Remember that memory problems happen to everyone. Many times, it's best to be open and honest with others about your symptoms. Talk with friends and family members to suggest ways they can help you. If you're a survivor who has noticed memory changes, please share experiences through this blog.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

Apr. 10, 2010