Topic: Exercise May Help to Ease ‘Chemo Brain’
Women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer who stayed physically active had fewer problems with memory and thinking.
Regular exercise may help lessen “chemo brain” among women being treated for breast cancer, according to a large-scale new study of the associations between physical activity, chemotherapy and cognition. The study, which involved more than 500 women with breast cancer, finds that those who were the most active before, during or after their treatment were the least likely to develop the memory decline and foggy thinking that characterize chemo brain.
The study does not pinpoint precisely how exercise may protect the brain during chemotherapy, but does suggest even small amounts of activity, such as a half-hour walk when possible, could make a difference in cancer patients’ ability to think and remember as they move toward recovery.
Cognitive problems are nearly universal among women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. “Most patients will experience some degree of cognitive decline” during or after their treatment, said Elizabeth A. Salerno, an assistant professor of surgery and public health at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the new study. In an earlier study written by many of her collaborators, researchers found that women’s ability to concentrate and remember worsened significantly after they began chemotherapy, and the falloff lingered or even accelerated through the six months after their treatment ended.
The causes of this so-called chemo brain remain somewhat mysterious, Dr. Salerno said, but probably involve a complex interplay between physical and psychological side effects from the disease and treatment. Chemotherapy drugs may directly undermine the operations of certain brain cells, for instance, or cause inflammation throughout the brain. Women with breast cancer also often struggle with fatigue, depression or anxiety during their treatment, which likewise can influence the ability to think and remember.
Meanwhile, experts increasingly recommend exercise for people with cancer of almost any type, including breast cancer, since it typically combats certain of the more-debilitating side effects of treatment, such as fatigue and muscle loss. Perhaps even more important, in high-risk breast cancer patients, exercise is linked to significantly lower risks of recurrence and longer life spans.
But little has been known about whether being active might also alter the severity of chemo brain. Past research into moving and thinking during breast cancer treatment has been mostly small in scale or centered on physical activity during chemotherapy, when few women, understandably, manage to get much exercise.
Topic Discussed: Exercise May Help to Ease ‘Chemo Brain’
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