Chemo Brain Could Be Worse With This Type of Chemo Drug

Research from JAMA Oncology found differences in how the brain responds to certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer. Researchers examined how the brains of breast cancer survivors functioned after treatments with anthracycline drugs, nonanthracycline chemotherapy and no chemotherapy whatsoever. What they found out should help people who suffer from “chemo brain,” or the fuzzy-headedness that patients feel during and after cancer treatments.



Researchers noted brain functions in 62 breast cancer survivors with an average age of 55 who stopped undergoing treatments at least two 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.


Anthracyclines are a class of antibiotic drugs that come from strains of certain Strep bacteria, notes 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.

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.

How Do You Counter Chemo Brain?

Chemo brain causes cancer patients to suffer impairment in thinking abilities and memory. Cancer Care has several ways patients can combat chemo brain to try to lead a more normal life while undergoing treatment.


  • Carrying a pad of paper and a pen at all times to write down shopping lists, errands, chores, phone calls and appointments helps patients keep things straight. Patients should cross off each accomplished item and include as much information as possible such as times and dates for deadlines so you stay on top of things.
  • Daily planners, wall calendars and notebooks help organize daily schedules and offer plenty of space to write down tasks to accomplish on certain days. For more high-tech options, plenty of smartphone apps help to organize information and provide alerts to upcoming events.
  • Some patients find leaving a voice mail or answering machine message serves as a good reminder. For patients who prefer this option, a digital audio recorder can save a lot of time.
  • The best defense is to keep the mind and body active, healthy and alert through proper nutrition and exercise. This includes activities used to stimulate the brains, such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, word games or reading. The more patients can do to keep the brain and body in shape, the better they feel and less chemo brain takes over their life.

Chemo brain doesn't have to control you. Discuss your treatment options with your doctor and then see if he can recommend ways to help your brain and your body reduce the effects of treatment. Learn about the long-term and short-term effects of chemo brain by visiting this blog post.

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