New clues into why cancer patients experience ‘chemo brain’

Breast cancer patients who’ve gone through chemotherapy have long complained of trouble focusing their minds on the tasks in front of them.  A study published in Clinical Neurophysiology confirmed that the brains of women who have undergone chemotherapy spend more time wandering than do the brains of a healthy individuals.  The inability to maintain sustained attention could be a feature of the cognitive difficulties reported by some breast cancer survivors. The study’s co-investigators included Department members Kristin Campbell, Lara Boyd and Teresa Liu-Ambrose. The lead author of the publication is Julia Kam, a student in Psychology at UBC, supervised by Todd Handy. They used electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor the brain activity of breast cancer patients as well as people who had not undergone chemotherapy while they completed a series of tasks.  Up to now clinician have been unable diagnose or measure these symptoms using traditional cognitive tests and there are no clear effective interventions to address these complaints.

These study results not only confirm a difference in brain function and identify a potential target for possible treatment interventions, but also underscore the utility of a new combination of laboratory-based measures for assessing the self-reported attentional impairments in breast cancer patients.  The publication has caught the attention of several popular media outlets such as the Vancouver Sun