What Is Chemo Brain?

When cells in your body grow in an unhealthy way — which can then spread to other areas of the body — it is called cancer, explains the National Cancer Institute. Cancer cells may develop due to changes at a genetic level and can even be inherited. Other causes of cancer include errors stemming from cell division and even environmental factors like the chemicals in cigarette smoke or exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

In 2020, nearly 10 million people died from cancer, with the most common cause of death stemming from lung cancer (via World Health Organization). Further, some 18 million cases of cancer were reported globally in 2020, the most prevalent type being breast cancer, which accounted for 12.5% of all new cases (per World Cancer Research Fund International).

According to Mayo Clinic, cancer treatments aim to cure the disease if possible by removing it or killing the cancer cells. Otherwise, cancer treatments can help slow the growth of the disease or help relieve the symptoms. Common treatments include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and surgery, says MedlinePlus

Notably, cancer treatment can cause some serious side effects, including what is known as chemo brain. Here's everything you need to know about this side effect.

Chemo brain: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Chemo brain, also known as chemo fog, is an issue with a person's ability to think, focus, and remember things while they undergo cancer treatment (via Cleveland Clinic). It can occur before or after treatment (per National Cancer Institute) and can be a symptom of the cancer treatment or even the cancer itself.

According to Stanford Medicine, chemo brain could be caused by a lack of proper functionality in three types of brain cells — astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes — in response to a cancer drug such as methotrexate. Other causes of chemo brain include changes to the immune system, fatigue, or stress (via Cleveland Clinic).

The symptoms of chemo brain include brain fog, difficulty muli-tasking or making snap decisions, and poor memory. For example, someone with chemo brain may have trouble learning new things or even remembering a recent conversation (via Mayo Clinic).

According to the American Cancer Society, chemo brain can be treated with activities that can improve brain function like exercise and meditation. Further, good nutrition may help you cope with the symptoms of chemo brain — so be sure to eat your vegetables.