National Cancer Institute
Post Date: Sep 7, 2021
Cognitive impairment (problems with memory and thinking) is often reported by cancer patients and survivors and is sometimes called "chemobrain" or "chemofog.” Get detailed information about cognitive impairment and treatment in this expert-reviewed summary.
Cognitive Impairment in Adults with Non-CNS Cancers
General Information About Cognitive Problems in Cancer Survivors
Key Points for this Section
- Cognition is the mental process of learning and understanding.
- Memory and thinking problems may occur in cancer patients and cancer survivors.
Cognition is the mental process of learning and understanding.
The thinking process includes being able to do the following:
- Focus on the important information, thoughts, and actions.
- Pay attention to a task or activity for a long period of time.
- Predict what may happen, plan, and solve problems.
- Take in new information quickly.
- Have a sense of where objects are around you.
- Understand and communicate by speaking and writing.
- Learn and remember new information.
Memory and thinking problems may occur in cancer patients and cancer survivors.
Changes in memory and thinking are common in cancer patients and cancer survivors and are to be expected. Your thinking process may change, making it harder for you to pay attention and remember information the same way as you did before your cancer treatment.
Talk to your doctor about memory and thinking problems that may happen with your type of cancer or after treatment.
Diagnosis of Cognitive Problems
Key Points for this Section
- Possible signs of cognitive problems include trouble learning or remembering.
- Cancer treatments or other diseases may cause cognitive problems.
- Your doctor will examine you to better understand the problems you are having.
Possible signs of cognitive problems include trouble learning or remembering.
Other conditions may also cause cognitive problems. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Trouble focusing on one thing.
- Being unable to complete tasks.
- Memory loss.
- Trouble understanding what people are saying.
- Trouble remembering names and common words.
- Being unable to recognize familiar objects.
- Trouble following instructions.
- Being unable to manage your money well. For example, you may have trouble paying bills or balancing your checkbook.
- Disorganized behavior or thinking.
- Loss of motivation.
- Change in how you see the world around you.
Cancer treatments or other diseases may cause cognitive problems.
- Older age.
- Being weak or frail.
- Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or other medications, and their side effects.
- Being postmenopausal.
- Having emotional distress, such as anxiety or depression.
- Having certain symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, or trouble sleeping.
- Having other diseases or conditions.
- Using alcohol or other substances that change your mental state.
Your doctor will examine you to better understand the problems you are having.
Your doctor will do an exam to check for signs of disease. Your doctor will also ask you about factors that cause cognitive problems, and your education, job, and daily activities.
Treatment of Cognitive Problems
Key Points for this Section
- Treatment of cognitive problems may include activities that help your attention, memory, and thinking.
- Cognitive rehabilitation
- Movement therapy
- Attention restoration
- Certain drugs are being studied to treat cognitive problems.
Treatment of cognitive problems may include activities that help your attention, memory, and thinking.
The goal of cognitive rehabilitation is to improve your memory, thinking, organization, and decision-making skills. Cognitive rehabilitation includes the following:
- Learning how the brain works.
- Learning ways to take in new information and perform new tasks or behaviors.
- Using tools to help stay organized, such as calendars or electronic diaries.
- Doing activities over and over, usually on a computer, that become more challenging over time.
Attention restoring activities may help you to focus and concentrate. These include walking, gardening, bird watching, and caring for pets.
Meditation may help improve your cognitive function. Meditation is a mind-body practice in which a person focuses his or her attention on something, such as an object, word, phrase, or breathing. This will help keep you from being distracted or having stressful thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a type of meditation that focuses on bringing attention and awareness to each moment.
Certain drugs are being studied to treat cognitive problems.
Several drugs have been studied to treat cognitive problems in cancer patients and survivors, such as psychostimulants and erythropoietin-stimulating agents, but results are mixed. More research is needed.
About This PDQ Summary
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about expert-reviewed information summary about causes and management of cognitive impairment in people with cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
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PDQ® Supportive and Palliative Care Editorial Board. PDQ Cognitive Impairment in Adults with Non−Central Nervous System Cancers. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated
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