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New Study Aims to Better Understand the Cause of “Chemo Brain”

Below is a guest post by Anthony J. Ryals, PhD, discussing a new study underway at Northwestern University looking at the effect chemotherapy and hormone depletion have on memory and cognition in cancer survivors. 

By Anthony J. Ryals, PhD

Prior research has indicated that up to 90% of chemotherapy recipients also receiving hormone depletion therapy (such as Tamoxifen) report disruptions in cognition including memory, attention, and planning. This type of disruption, sometimes termed “chemo fog” or “chemo brain”, has recently gained recognition as a problem by many clinicians, yet there is a clear lack of understanding regarding how or why it occurs. Our research study, Examining the Effects of Chemotherapy and Hormone Depletion on Memory and Cognition, is aimed at understanding how chemotherapy and hormone depletion affect memory and cognition in breast cancer survivors.

The purpose of this study is to help find out what specifically happens to the brain that leads to these disruptions. By learning more about how chemotherapy and hormone depletion therapy affect cognition, we hope that our research can be used to improve quality of life outcomes for cancer survivors as well as to help clinicians and caregivers better understand the condition.

This research will utilize a method known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record the activity of the brain. MRI is very safe. It is a completely non-invasive procedure, which means that no needles, chemicals, or radiation are used in the procedure. Participants will be asked to perform basic tasks, which may require them to respond to visual stimuli presented on a computer screen.

Eligibility criteria for participation:

  • You cannot currently be pregnant
  • You must be right handed
  • You must be between 18 and 45 years of age
  • You must have received chemotherapy treatment with (or without) hormone depletion therapy in the last 6-12 months
  • You cannot have certain implants or devices that are metallic in your body. MRI machines use a strong magnetic field, and metallic objects may be hazardous and/or interfere with the procedure.

This study will take approximately two hours, and it will take place at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. You will receive $60.00 for your participation and be reimbursed for travel expenses. If interested, please email Alyssa at Northwestern.CancerResearch@gmail.com or call the Northwestern University lab for human neuroscience at 312-503-5613.

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