Help for Victorian cancer patients experiencing 'chemo brain'

Monday 8 October, 2018

Victorians experiencing cancer-related changes in the way they think and remember information, commonly known as ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog’, can now access a new resource from Cancer Council Victoria for information and support.

The fact sheet, “Understanding Changes in Thinking and Memory”, was developed to help people make sense of cognitive changes due to cancer and cancer treatments and provides suggestions about how to manage day-to-day tasks and improve thinking and memory.

Katherine Lane, Cancer Council Victoria’s Head of Cancer Information and Support Services, said people with cancer often report a noticeable or sudden decline in cognitive function.

“Although thinking and memory changes do not affect everyone with cancer, research shows it is relatively common. According to one study, it can affect up to three in four people during treatment, about one in three people before treatment and one in three after treatment, so we recognise there is a real need for information in this area,” Ms Lane said.

“For some they experience subtle changes, but for others they are more obvious and can be quite distressing or debilitating. Changes might include a feeling of mental ‘fogginess’, memory changes, being unusually disorganised, and difficulty concentrating, finding words and multi-tasking. These changes at any level have the potential to impact a person’s confidence and can also impact their ability to work, or carry out normal daily activities”

Naveena, a volunteer with Cancer Council Victoria and cancer survivor, reviewed the resource and said people shouldn’t be ashamed of asking for help.

“I used to be able to recall and process things quickly. What used to take me five minutes now takes 20 to 30 minutes. I’ve had to adopt ways of getting around it,” Naveena said.

“Be kind to yourself and utilise whatever resources you can. Whether that’s technological, or using your family and friends.”

Ms Lane said cognitive problems can occur before, during or after cancer treatment, but problems are usually temporary and get better with time.

“Most people tell us they notice improvements within the first year after finishing treatment.

“We would advise anyone experiencing ‘chemo brain’ to try and be gentle and allow themselves time to recover. It is also important for people to know that there is information and support available to assist those who are experiencing changes to their thinking and memory as a result of treatment – it is not something they have to deal with alone” Ms Lane said.

Cancer Council Victoria’s new fact sheet provides strategies for coping with cognitive problems, and ways to improve your wellbeing and ability to manage daily life.

We encourage anyone who is experiencing changes to their thinking and memory to call 13 11 20 to speak with an experienced cancer nurse for further information and support or email askanurse@cancervic.gov.au. They can be linked with our factsheet or any other programs and services available that may assist them at this time. To speak with a nurse using an interpreter, call 13 14 50 and ask to speak to Cancer Council Victoria.

The “Understanding Changes in Thinking and Memory” facts sheet is available to download and order here: www.cancervic.org.au/living-with-cancer/common-side-effects/changes-in-thinking