Chemotherapy: Can It Negatively Affect Your Brain?

Chemo Brain

Even though medical doctors haven’t been able to link ‘chemo brain’ to just one cause, it doesn’t make this condition any less real or frustrating. Regardless of the type of cancer a person has been diagnosed with, chemotherapy can have a lasting impact—even after treatment. The effects on the brain can cause disruptions to daily life and relationships, and it can make maintaining work and home life very challenging. As for recovery, some patients get back to normal within a few months while some don’t see improvement for years.

The effects of chemotherapy on the brain can cause disruptions to daily life and relationships, and it can make maintaining work and home life very challenging. Click To Tweet

If you are currently undergoing or have finished your chemotherapy treatment, it is possible that you may suffer from chemo brain.

What Is ‘Chemo Brain?’

Chemo brain is the unofficial term used by cancer patients and survivors to describe the memory and cognitive problems they experience as they undergo chemo, or after they have completed it. Some people call it chemo brain fog, and doctors and scientists may refer to it as chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or dysfunction.

Despite the many descriptions, the reality is that your brain might simply feel damaged after chemo and cancer treatment.

Common symptoms of chemo brain include:

  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Short attention span
  • Disorganization
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, multitasking, or learning new things
  • An overall feeling of mental murkiness

What Causes Chemo Brain?

While the exact cause of this condition has not been pinpointed, a 2019 study published in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology surmised that the underlying causes of this condition after treatment with the chemo agent, doxorubicin, could be related to disruptions in the immune system’s response, oxidative stress, a decrease in neurotransmitter levels, and inflammation in the brain.

To make it even more complicated, in the fight against the disease, cancer patients typically do not get chemotherapy alone; it is often accompanied by other treatment interventions, such as surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy, all of which can have an effect on the brain.

At the same time, patients have their own combination of risk factors or predispositions that can contribute to the probability of chemo brain. These may include gender (women may be more vulnerable than men), type of cancer, age, stress, sleep deprivation, vitamin D or other nutritional deficiencies, and preexisting conditions.

Genetics may also play a role in cognitive dysfunction related to chemotherapy. A research study published in the medical journal, Psychooncology, found that patients who carry the APOE4 gene (a genetic marker associated with Alzheimer’s disease) may have an increased susceptibility to the symptoms of chemo brain.

These various factors can work together to affect a cancer patient’s brain health and function during and after treatment.

Assessment for Chemo Brain

Many patients suffering from chemo brain come to Amen Clinics for help. Due to the multifaceted causes and variability from person to person, a standard way to treat chemo brain has not emerged in conventional medicine.

Our approach is to assess and treat every patient’s case uniquely, which is really the only way that chemo brain should be managed. If you are struggling with persistent chemo brain, your doctor at Amen Clinics will recommend brain SPECT imaging to see which areas of your brain are functioning normally and which areas are not. This will help the doctor create an individualized treatment plan specifically for you.

Strategies for Improving Brain Function During or After Chemotherapy

At Amen Clinics, we understand that as you work to recover from the effects of cancer and chemo brain, one of the most important things to do is to put your brain in a healing environment. We have found that most people can benefit from therapeutic lifestyle changes including these:

While the process of regaining your pre-chemotherapy brain function may take a while, making some effort each day with a few different strategies can accumulate and eventually lead to the positive changes you want.

The effects of chemo brain can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Very sad that there aren’t any treatment centers near me!!!!!

    Comment by Kelly Davidson — March 23, 2018 @ 3:13 AM

  2. I call it “baby Swiss cheese brain” as I seem to have soft squishy small-hol-ey grey matter following surgery-chemo-rad tx 4.5 years ago. More than a dozen surgeries for breast cancer ensued, courtesy hospital acquired infections, etc.

    Actually, it’s not very funny. I had my brain mapped last year, which showed damage. It was heartening to know my experiences were not just “in my head” but rather really “in my head”.

    Are there ICD 10 codes that can be used to get insurance coverage for tax and if not, have you started a patient group to lobby it? I’ll help as it’s real brain damage!

    Warm regards,
    Ranay Yarian

    Comment by Ranay Yarian — March 23, 2018 @ 7:16 AM

  3. Chemo Brain is very real. Based on my experience patients receiving chemo therapy should be cancelled on this reality so patients can prepare themselves and their families including coping strategies.

    My doctor told me her patients complain about Chemo Brain but said there is no scientific basis for it. Scientific basis or not it is real and it has a significant impact on patients.

    Comment by Davis — March 23, 2018 @ 11:04 AM

  4. HBOT for chemo brain. We’ve treated several patients successfully w hyperbaric oxygen therapy for chemo brain. Common complaints are cognitive decline, brain fog, fatigue, loss of interest in many things, etc. HBOT stimulates the growth of new microvasculature (angiogenesis) into the injured tissue. “HBOT heals wounds in the body in any location & for any duration.” Pts w cancer have suffered enough, cognitive decline does not have to part of the continuous sequelae of cancer recovery. U can be bright & cognitively clear again. Also, cancer thrives in a low oxygen environment, HBOT is a high oxygen environment. All good.

    Comment by Juliette RN — March 23, 2018 @ 12:30 PM

  5. Chemo brain, or in my case, Radiation brain or both are extremely real!!! I’ve had more radiation than “supposedly” humanly possible to my brain, the cones and rods of my eyes, nasal cavity, neck, chest and spine. Now they say I had more than humanly possible. Oh, and those were the days when run off was probably larger than whole area they were hitting in the first place. This is the way it was explained to me….for every second I had radiation it was 10,000 times what a normal person receives in a dental x-ray. They hit me for almost a minute on each side of my head and a minute and a half from my chest up.

    I also had the latest new cutting edge chemo called cis-platinum, liquid platinum, literally. It was ran though an angiogram from my groin, up through my heart and into my head as fast as I could take it while being awake. Twice! The second time my artery started quivering out of control, had to have nitro under the tongue and they had to hurry and get out of there. I guess they didn’t want the TV camera somehow coming apart or breaking off. In the process of all this, they hit my facial nerve so I had bells palsy on the left side of my face. Now because of me and all the people who have long since died they use a derivative called cis-platin. It’s administered through a regular I-V.

    Since platinum didn’t knock the tumor in my head in half, in fact, mine actually grew some, they were really at their wit’s end with me. So it got better. (Ha!) First they started on (my regular) radiation. Then about half way through or so they put me on 5-FU chemo, which is still used today, I believe. But, they put me on it for a full week straight with daily double radiation appointments. So all that radiation twice a day with chemo running into me at the same time. Then they went back to regular radiation again for three or four weeks. They were waiting to bring on the last fine doozy until the end. It was a new meaning to going out with a bang, in my opinion. They stuck tubes up my nose and deep into my nasal cavity that were at least a foot long, if not longer. These tubes were completely filled with radiation pellets. Everything was taped to my face and I had to have that for somewhere around fourteen hours or so. They didn’t forewarn me on any of this. But what really took it over the top is the put me in the last room, on the cancer floor of the hospital, put a radiation sign on the door and NO one was allowed to come into that room, except for a guy in a white suit with a Geiger counter. I’m not kidding!!!

    In the end, they gave me two years to live…..MAX!!!! I’d either have a re-occurence in the same spot or most likely in my lungs, which still happens for most people to this day. Last Saturday, my official anniversary date of being totally complete with cancer therapy, was my 31st anniversary!!!! I’ve lived longer than anyone worldwide with the same type of tumor, given the severity of the stage IV tumor and especially the therapy. This all happened, from start to finish, from about December 17th, 1986 to March 17th, 1987.

    Yes, they about killed me with the cure. Yes, I live with some unpleasant side effects. Some would say extremely unpleasant side effects. Yes, I’m slowly dying from the inside out. Yes, some days it’s hard to function. Yes, I deal with chronic fatigue something fierce. Yes, it can take me close to eight hours or more to finish a four paragraph email some days. I may put two words in backwards, think one word and type another, I can put words in that I don’t know where in the hell they came from and I can leave words out that I swore I put in. I can’t remember words a lot and I have to describe them until I come up with them. I also forget how to spell sometimes the easiest of words. Focus?!?! What’s that a four letter word? (Smile…) Oh and yes, I’ve been late to my funeral a couple of more times since then. My guardian angels have had to have ask for pay raises many many times! I eat mostly vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, etc… Sometimes I’ll eat fish. Once in a great while chicken. No red meat or pork for the past twenty nine years or so. No saliva. I also only buy organic, non-processed, No GMOs foods 98% – 99.9999% of the time. Basically, I work to avoid as many chemicals as possible.

    The funny thing is my chemo, or really, radiation brain or both didn’t rear it’s complete ugly head until I was in a car accident in 2006. A gentleman ran a red light driving between 30 and 35 mph. He was in a large industrial truck and he drove into my engine and driver’s side door. Then he pushed me into another car that hit the engine and door on the passenger side. The airbag broke my collarbone on one side and completely dislocated my hand from my wrist, bone wise. Then it only leads to another obnoxious story. (Smile…). My point is, I think I may have been experiencing some signs before that, however, that’s when the carpet was really pulled out from under me and has only gotten worse, a lot worse. I can only imagine my brain looks like “baby Swiss Cheese”.

    Last, but not least, I do want to say, not all good things are good for all people. I had to go through 10 or 11 weeks of hyperbaric therapy back in 2003 and it about killed me. It was the worst!!!! So please always listen to your body….. You have the advantage, you’ve lived with it the longest.

    Comment by Susanne — March 23, 2018 @ 10:12 PM

  6. Hi Juliet, do u know of oxygen therapy equipment that can be purchased for the home in the case of MS and cancer. Thanks. Monica

    Comment by Monica — March 24, 2018 @ 12:24 AM

  7. I hear about all these treatments that might be successful but who has the money to get them. It seems that only rich people can afford to get well and better themselves and others have to just take meds and live a miserable life. The Amen clinic helped me identify the damage to my brain but I could not afford all their recommendations. I ended up paying $4000 just to see my damaged brain. Their recommendations were no different than what a conventional doctor has given me. The tests the Amen clinic recommended are way too expensive and not covered by insurance. They only have a free follow up and then you have to pay for other follow up appointments. So sad that they could not help me like they claim they would.

    Comment by Giovanni — March 24, 2018 @ 8:32 AM

  8. Yes, you are right. Much as i wanted to get help from Amen Clinic, with what you said, it’s enormous, exuberantly expensive even to see them. If they are true to what they said that they help those who have this type of problem and their mission is for the health of the person’s brain, then they should make it affordable or accessible to those who really need their help, like me. But, i just couldn’t afford their fees. IN fact, i doubt if they also read any comment from the readers because an inquiry on how to get their services when they are in USA, i live in Canada. To this date, a year later no response from them.

    Comment by Maricor — March 24, 2018 @ 4:04 PM

  9. My husband was treated with two different chemo/radiation therapies over a 3-year period (2 cancers – squamous cell in jaw and glioblastoma in brain). He died July 2017 due to a brain bleed. Interestingly, I have all the symptoms of “chemo brain!” I assumed it was grief fog. Does grief fog look the same, or is it possible that chemo impacts a spouse due to close contact? Strange, I know. Just wondering!

    Comment by Coach Carol — March 25, 2018 @ 3:43 PM

  10. I doubt it that they read these comments or even direct emails you send to them. They are very busy making money. My recommendation was exercise and increase Zoloft. So far the increase of Zoloft has not done any greater effect and the desire to exercise is not there. You are better off pushing yourself to a better diet and exercise and save yourself all that money just to see that in fact your brain has injuries or damage from chemicals or chemo.

    Comment by Giovanni — March 26, 2018 @ 8:28 AM

  11. Hello Carol, for more information regarding your specific situation please feel free to call our Care Coordinators at 888-288-9834 or fill out this form online – Finding the right diagnosis is key, our Care Coordinators can also set up a phone or in-person consultation with one of our specialists.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 26, 2018 @ 2:38 PM

  12. Hello Maricor, thank you for your comment. We would like to get in touch with you to discuss options. We are able to provide referrals for specialists in your area that use brain SPECT imaging and/or follow The Amen Clinics Method. Our Care Coordinators can be reached at 949-266-3715 or if you submit this form someone will get back to you –

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 26, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

  13. I have taken care of both of my parents with cancer, my Mother went through 3 long treatments of chemo over 15 years with additional surgeries for ovarian cancer…My Dad chose not to get chemo for lung cancer…I have had brain fog like my Mother experienced but I was never on chemo…so I understand the underlying factors of the body without ever receiving chemo. I have always questioned because of severe symptoms and burnout that I probably have a process going on that has yet to be detected and that my interventions with a change in diet and lifestyle may have haulted disease.. I know that cancer is stress induced along with many other factors including eating habits…Thank You Dr. Amen for bringing up this topic !!

    Comment by Diane (Greco) Allen — March 28, 2018 @ 2:02 PM

  14. I experienced chemo brain. I signed up for chemo brain study free. One day I took free dance class for survivors, And later went for the study. After the study, researcher asked me what did I do today without any info from the study. Told him I went to a dance class before coming here. He immediately said that your neurons were very high. Asked him is it good or bad? He said it is very good and keep doing what I did today. Join some class where your brain has to follow the dance or exercise steps. I was interviewed by medical journalists after the study.

    Comment by Premlata Vazirani — March 28, 2018 @ 5:23 PM

  15. Amen Clinic;
    Is there a reason why you did not respond to Giovanni??
    I know there’s so many people who are in the same situation as Giovanni and have put out money to Amen Clinic for the Spec Scan and do not have the means to pay your outrageous visits when one has completed the spec Scan. After spending approximately $6,000 for a spect scan and then having to pay outrageous amounts to visit your medical staff afterwards in order to get help is ridiculous. Most people can’t afford that as they’re already paying outrageous amounts for their own insurance which is not covering any of your services.
    Please respond- Thanks in advance.

    Comment by Crystal — September 25, 2018 @ 5:53 AM

  16. I had chemo years ago for breast cancer. I found it damaged my liver and they had to ‘watch it’ for 12 years after the 5 usual years of follow up.
    As for chemo brain, I ended up not being able to hardly breathe I was so exhausted, even months after chemo was over.
    I slept one night for 18 full hours and woke up a whole different person.

    I felt alive again. I do feel that over the years there have been times I have felt spent for little reason in that moment.
    That I feel was the aftermath of chemo. I won’t have it again.

    When the other breast had to be removed five years ago it was a pill. Arimidex. I refused chemo ad was not offered it anyway because it was only 8 months after a bout of sepsis that nearly killed me. Not a good time to assault your body with anything.

    Sleep is so vital, so healing.

    Comment by Diane — October 19, 2018 @ 3:56 AM

  17. When my wife was experience “chemo brain’ after her breast cancer treatments she found that “neurofeedback training” helped a lot . She went back to work and after several sessions of Neurofeedback work her brain became a lot more efficient and her creativity as well as her ability to see fine points in issues she was facing all improved. She was a teacher and even her other teachers remarked how sharp she was after her sessions with neurofeedback. I”m a little surprised that the Amen Clinics don’t even mention that treatment as it is also helpful for ADHD . Unfortunately the Breast Cancer did eventually get to her brain and resulted in her death.

    Comment by Steve Bulcroft — October 19, 2018 @ 7:00 AM

  18. I had very strong chemo. On days that I dance, I am Fine. On days that I don’t dance, I am foggy and forgetful!

    Comment by Linda — October 19, 2018 @ 8:50 AM

  19. I’m assuming you have MS and had cancer? I have too – AML leukemia. I’d be interested in hearing if chemo helped your MS ( if that is something you received )

    Comment by Lori — October 19, 2018 @ 1:53 PM

  20. Thank you for sharing your experience, I am so sorry you had to go through all this. This is Oct 20, 2018, Wondering how you are doing now.
    I had Radiation and Chemo for breast cancer in 1997 which left me with thyroid and heart problems. I also wonder if my brain is foggy because of the treatment or dementia coming on.
    Again, so sorry, what a story! And not a good one.
    I hope you are well enough to reply.
    Love in Christ.

    Comment by Olga Bateman — October 19, 2018 @ 9:41 PM

  21. Dancing. .? Very interesting, hadn’t heard of this before. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Comment by Olga Bateman — October 19, 2018 @ 9:50 PM

  22. Where do you live? Maybe we can help

    Comment by — October 20, 2018 @ 3:41 AM

  23. I had AML and a Bone Marrow Transplant 8 years ago. I experienced brain fog too. Here is a link similar to the product I use – the one I have is a much older model. The EWOT helps with brain fog. Also, cancer cannot survive in an oxygenated state so it is important to be deep breathing on a daily basis! The EWOT is such a blessing to have.

    Comment by Dayle — October 20, 2018 @ 6:25 AM

  24. I am curious why Amen ClinIics have not converted to a 501c3 I’m not a lawyer or very schooled in business but I do know with 501c3’s more people can be helped at a fraction of the cost and the clinic will still be making money.
    Also, I’m not happy with all the radiation these tests contain. That’s not healthy.

    Comment by Robyn Avanessian — October 20, 2018 @ 7:02 AM

  25. I had 6 sessions of chemo for ovarian cancer. I also had chemo for colon cancer and still taking it. I have lost so much memory of simple things, such as second grade spelling, etc. names of people I know. How to use my computer, how to cook some thing I’ve cooked all my life! So annoying and embarrassing.

    I had a 51/2 hr surgery at 80 yrs old. With all theses problems, I’m still thankful for my life I have! BTW, it took me nearly 20 minutes to type this. LOL

    Comment by joyce jenkins — October 20, 2018 @ 11:16 AM

  26. Dr amen clinics appear to provide a wonderful service for those who can afford it.
    I read many comments from persons who cannot afford the out of pocket expenses.
    What is Dr Amens organization initiatingfor medical coverage benefits— and is there something patients and families can engage in to help get the point across to ‘ the powers that be.’?
    I hear frustration and passion expressed in many comments. How to use this forum to facilitate awareness, education and change, Doctors?

    Comment by Moira Aronson-Brown — October 20, 2018 @ 12:56 PM

  27. Hello, I have my concern using HBOT on cancer patients. I’m my self a cancer survivor. I received chemotherapy at 17 and 18 years old along with whole body radiation for Hodgkin Lymphoma over 20 years ago. About a year ago my thyroid was totally removed because of cancer again, followed with radioactive iodine treatment twice. In addition, I have had skin cancer (Basal Cell Carcinoma) removed in three occasions. Is it safe to use HBOT in a patient with high risk for cancer? I’m afraid of that the angiogenesis effect of such treatment stimulate cancer cells also and increase my risk to develop cancer again.

    Comment by Rey — October 21, 2018 @ 8:29 PM

  28. We should stop calling it chemo brain, and call it what it is: chemo brain damage. “Chemo brain” sounds innocuous, like “bed head.”

    Comment by Amy — December 5, 2018 @ 3:38 PM

  29. You are so right! Let’s lobby this change and reference Chemo Brain Damage,

    Comment by SimplyRhonda — February 27, 2019 @ 2:37 PM

  30. Yes you are right my Democrat friends. Lets put our efforts into changing the Name instead of actually finding relief for these symptoms i suffer with each day. I have suffered from Chemo Brain for the last 5 Years. and anyone else in my shoes really don’t care what Artsy Fartsy name you give it. Be part of the cure not part of the Bureaucratic problem!!!

    Comment by Stage 4 Gary — March 24, 2019 @ 7:11 PM

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