Chemo Brain: An Unknown Side Effect of Chemotherapy on Cognition

  • Chemotherapy can cause adverse effects on brain function, called post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment by scientists
  • Cancer survivors oftentimes refer to chemo brain to describe poor memory, reduced processing speed and other impaired cognitive skills that can occur after cancer treatment
  • CogniFit aims to support cancer survivors with chemo brain

Cancer has a major impact on society, people’s daily lives and their family members. It is estimated that each year, the number of new cases of cancer is around 439.2 per 100,000 men and women just in the United States. It is a highly researched disease since it is the second-leading cause of death worldwide, right after heart disease. One of the best treatments for cancer is chemotherapy, which consists of using certain drugs to destroy cancerous cells. However, these drugs carry side effects that can hinder a person’s daily life. Chemotherapy can cause much burden in its curative intent, from physical ailments such as pains and aches to stomach problems. In recent years, more research has been directed towards the potential adverse effects of chemotherapy on the brain and cognitive function. Brenna McDonald, associate professor at the Center for Neuroimaging at the Indiana University School of Medicine suggests that previous work on other types of cancer show that chemotherapy can lead to reduced efficiency in the brain’s neural networks, which can result in a poor cognitive function.

Ahles, Root and Ryan (2012) determined that chemotherapy is the major cause of post-treatment cognitive problems and coined the term chemo brain. Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Schagen and Wefel (2013) established cognitive dysfunctions from chemotherapy, affecting cognitive skills such as memory, executive function, attention and processing speed.

CogniFit, a leader in its sector for over 20 years, has understood the repercussions chemotherapy might have on the brain. With its vast experience in neuropsychological testing, brain training and cognitive stimulation, CogniFit has developed an evaluation and training program to help treat some of the most affected cognitive skills following chemotherapy treatment. While poor memory and slow processing speed seem to be a common chemo brain effect for every type of cancer, other types of cancer can impair other cognitive skills. For example, Tim Ahles, Ph.D., at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has found that since breast cancer is associated with the endocrine system, chemotherapy might affect more in executive function and attention than other types of cancer. CogniFit expert neuropsychologist David Asensio states that “although the cognitive alterations derived from chemotherapy may vary depending on the type of cancer being treated, there is a consensus that the cognitive skills most commonly affected by chemo brain are related to concentration, short-term memory and reaction time. Ultimately, the alteration of these cognitive abilities hinders the normal day-to-day performance of the patient with cancer, which is detrimental to their quality of life. Fortunately, cognitive stimulation of these three main cognitive skills and others can reduce the extent of this deterioration and help the person who is going through or has gone through an oncological process.”

It has been proven that surgery, dosing and the timing of chemotherapy treatments, among others, might contribute to the deterioration of brain functions, therefore it is important to keep the brain stimulated with physical exercises, brain training and good nutrition. 

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About CogniFit

CogniFit is a global leader in developing online programs to assess and train core cognitive areas such as attention, memory, coordination, perception and reasoning. As a digital health company, CogniFit specializes in scientifically validated cognitive tests and brain training programs, all available online at

CogniFit's patented technology has been designed by an international team of scientists, neurologists and psychologists who investigate and combine the latest discoveries on the brain with advanced adaptive algorithms and big data analytics. For 20 years, CogniFit has been developing personalized brain fitness programs with leading scientific institutions and published its results in several peer-reviewed publications.

As a major vendor in the cognitive assessment and training market, CogniFit offers its programs to individuals and companies in various verticals, such as healthcare, education, research, health and wellness, driving and human resources. Its brain fitness solutions are available in 19 languages.

Source: CogniFit