Chemo Brain Could Be Worse With This Type of Chemo Drug

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In the past few years, there have been conflicting studies about whether or not particular types of chemotherapy drugs cause “chemo brain” — a condition in which patients experience a mental fog or memory fuzziness during and after treatment.

The following studies assessed the cognitive effects of anthracycline-based chemo treatment versus nonanthracycline treatments.

Anthracyclines are a class of antibiotic drugs that come from strains of certain Strep bacteria, according to the National Cancer Institute. These types of drugs treat cancer by damaging DNA in cancer cells and eventually causing these cells to die. Anthracycline-based drugs include daunorubicin, doxorubicin and epirubicin.

Let’s take a look at what these studies found.


February 2016 Study


Researchers examined how the brains of breast cancer survivors functioned after treatments with anthracycline drugs, nonanthracycline chemotherapy and no chemotherapy whatsoever.

Researchers noted brain functions in 62 breast cancer survivors. They had an average age of 55 and all stopped undergoing treatments at least 2 years before their participation in the study. Of the 62 women, 20 had anthracycline-based chemotherapy as a primary treatment, 19 received nonanthracycline regimens of chemotherapy and 23 had no chemo whatsoever, according to Medical Xpress. Doctors then found ways to measure the cognitive abilities of these former breast cancer patients.

Participants enrolled in classes at Stanford University from 2008 to 2014, and researchers conducted the analysis during this period. These breast cancer survivors underwent a battery of tests, including standard psychological tests that measure brain function and MRI scans to look at the brain’s signalling network, notes JAMA Oncology. The results of these tests led to some alarming conclusions.

What They Found

Women treated with anthracycline chemotherapy drugs had lower verbal memory skills compared to other forms of chemotherapy or no chemotherapy at all. This includes the ability to immediately remember facts. MRIs indicated that connections in the brain were lower in patients treated with chemotherapy compared to those who received no chemo during treatment for breast cancer, which means the brain processes information less efficiently after undergoing chemo. Patients self-reported greater psychological distress due to chemo treatments versus nonchemotherapy regimens.

Overall, researchers suggest that anthracyclines may incur greater negative effects on the brain than chemotherapy without anthracyclines. Doctors at Stanford University and the University of Texas conclude more studies should follow up these conclusions due to this very small sample size (just 62 women), and so the doctors can get a better idea of how chemotherapy alters the brain.

Click “Next” to learn what the other study found.

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