Chemobrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind


Once a science writer, always a science writer.

Ellen Clegg, an editor at The Boston Globe, said she got the idea for her new book when a friend with breast cancer started complaining about “chemobrain.”

Clegg sensed a medical puzzle.

The former health editor did some digging and found new and ongoing research asking – do cancer therapies affect the mind? She says the evidence supports the notion that chemotherapy can trigger ailments ranging from fatigue to brain damage.

“Because a diagnosis of cancer is no longer always an automatic death sentence, there are millions of survivors out there who are done with their treatment but still coping with long-term side effects like chemobrain,” she said in a recent e-mail to BHN.

Clegg has a blog on the topic and she’ll be speaking at the Truro Library on Cape Cod on Friday, March 27.  With a family history of cancer, I think about these things. I would want a  book like this if I were facing chemo — reliable, just technical enough and not too self-helpy.

More here  from a 2007 NYTimes story: “Until recently, oncologists would discount it, trivialize it, make patients feel it was all in their heads,” said Dr. Daniel Silverman, a cancer researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the cognitive side effects of chemotherapy. “Now there’s enough literature, even if it’s controversial, that not mentioning it as a possibility is either ignorant or an evasion of professional duty.”

Clegg notes that some teens and young adults successfully treated for childhood cancer face “a poignant double-whammy…long-term cognitive damage caused by the radiation treatments and chemotherapy that saved their lives.”

Dr. Christopher Recklitis at Dana Farber runs a clinic for them.

A bit off topic: I started to do some reporting on the long term effects of childhood treatments and ended up focusing on one – congenital heart defects. Here’s a story I wrote for the LA times.

 “When young heart patients become adults: Doctors are taking note of the unique needs of people whose defects started in childhood.”



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