By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - August 27, 2021
It’s estimated that three out of four cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy will experience chemo brain. The side effect is often described as being in a mental fog and can include symptoms like difficulty concentrating, memory loss or trouble processing information.
There is no treatment for chemo brain. However, researchers are looking at ways to help patients better cope with the effects, including exercise.
A new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, followed 580 breast cancer patients, as well as a control group of 363 women without cancer, to understand the association between exercise and cognitive function.
When the study began, 33% of cancer patients reported physical activity that met national guidelines: at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. During chemotherapy, that number dropped to 21% of patients. Six months after treatment, it rose to 37%. About 40% of the control group met physical activity guidelines throughout the study.
Study participants reported their cognitive abilities and completed tests of memory and attention.
Cancer patients who met guidelines for physical activity before and after chemo reported better cognition and demonstrated better attention compared to those who never met the guidelines. The control group had similar cognitive outcomes, regardless of whether they met physical activity guidelines.
“It is unclear whether exercise caused better cognitive outcomes,” said Dr. Heather Jim, co-leader of the Health Outcomes & Behavior Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “However, exercise and a healthy diet are recommended for all women undergoing chemotherapy to help them feel their best, cognitively and physically.”