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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Environmental Health Note/Chemobrain

Air Date: Week of June 25, 2004

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Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky reports on a new study that dispels previous notions about the origins of “chemobrain,” a cognitive disorder that affects cancer patients using chemotherapy.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead: solar power is making its way from the shadows of the marketplace. First, this Environmental Health Note from Eileen Bolinsky.

BOLINSKY: A new study has found that anti-cancer drugs may not be the sole cause of what’s known as “chemobrain.” Chemobrain is a mental condition that causes some cancer patients to suffer cognitive disorders during and after chemotherapy. But a series of studies on breast cancer patients at the University of Texas revealed that 35 percent of participants experienced cognitive problems before chemo treatments.

Such findings suggest symptoms like forgetfulness, confusion and an inability to concentrate may be caused by the cancer itself rather than anti-cancer remedies. Researchers say doctors inaccurately blamed these symptoms on chemotherapy because patients weren’t examined for mental impairment preceding their treatments.

Dr. Christina Myers, a professor of neuropsychology and one of the study’s authors, says the findings will benefit patients who’ve been reluctant to undergo treatment fearing chemobrain symptoms.

Despite the study, researchers still don’t know why cancer patients develop cognitive problems. Some think cancer cells create substances that impair the nervous system. Other theories say the cancer may be affecting hormones that inflame the immune system. The study also found that the effects of chemobrain are not long lasting. A year after the study half the patients with “Chemobrain” recovered from their symptoms.

That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Eileen Bolinsky.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and Aveda, an earth-conscious beauty company committed to preserving natural resources and finding more sustainable ways of doing business. Information available at Aveda.com; The Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12; The Annenberg Foundation; and The Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families, and their communities. On the web at wkkf.org. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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