Chemotherapy is a form of treatment doctors prescribe to treat cancer. There is conflicting evidence on whether chemotherapy can cause dementia.
Chemotherapy is a treatment involving cancer-killing medications. They can also affect healthy cells, which can cause side effects.
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- hair loss
- bruising or bleeding easily
- mood changes
- problems with concentration or focus, colloquially known as chemo brain
Currently, there is conflicting evidence on the link between chemotherapy and dementia.
Read on to learn more about the potential link between chemotherapy and dementia, how to manage dementia, and other chemotherapy side effects that may affect the brain.
The likelihood of chemotherapy causing a person to develop dementia is currently unclear.
One 2017 study examined the probability of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in female breast cancer survivors. Researchers found that those who received chemotherapy with specific brain structures may be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
However, the study authors also note that those who did not receive chemotherapy also had a higher risk for the disease. They note that common brain structure changes may play a role in Alzheimer’s development and not necessarily cancer or cancer treatment.
Another 2021 study looked at data from 135,834 people over 65 with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Researchers found a link between chemotherapy and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Further research is necessary to clarify the potential link between chemotherapy and dementia.
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, it is possible to manage symptoms.
The following medications
- cholinesterase inhibitors, such as donepezil
- N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists
- cholesterol and blood pressure drugs, to prevent damage resulting from vascular dementia
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), to help manage depression symptoms in people with dementia
Other strategies for managing dementia symptoms include:
- being physically active
- eating healthily
- not drinking alcohol or smoking
- getting regular checkups with a doctor
- writing down daily tasks and appointments
- maintaining hobbies
- keeping the mind active
- engaging with friends, family, and the local community
- planning for the future
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- problems with memory
- trouble concentrating
- issues with multitasking
- difficulty learning new things
- trouble remembering common words
Symptoms of chemo brain generally last a short time. However, they may last longer in some people.
Chemotherapy may also cause neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity is damage to the nervous system caused by toxic chemicals.
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- limb weakness or numbness
- loss of memory, vision, or intellect
- cognitive or behavioral problems
- sexual dysfunction
The following are some questions people frequently ask about chemotherapy and dementia.
Does chemotherapy increase the chances of dementia?
There is conflicting research on whether chemotherapy causes dementia.
Can chemo cause memory loss?
Chemotherapy can cause chemo brain, which can cause symptoms such as memory loss. Symptoms of chemo brain are
Does chemotherapy cause Alzheimer’s?
The research on whether chemotherapy causes Alzheimer’s is unclear. Further research is necessary to understand chemotherapy’s long-term cognitive side effects.
Does chemo cause permanent brain damage?
Symptoms of chemo brain are generally short-term. However, they can last longer in some people.
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment. There is conflicting evidence on whether chemotherapy increases a person’s chances of developing dementia.
Additional research is necessary to determine whether chemotherapy may increase a person’s risk of dementia.
Chemotherapy can cause a person to develop short-term cognitive issues. Rarely do they become long-term.
There is no cure for dementia. However, medications and lifestyle changes may help manage symptoms.