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‘Chemo brain’ confusion may result from stress, not medicines

‘‘Chemo brain,’’ a term describing the forgetfulness and cognitive fog that breast-cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy experience, may have more to do with the stress and fatigue caused by the disease, a study suggests.

More women with breast cancer scored lower on cognitive function tests before getting chemotherapy than did those without the disease, according to research presented Friday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.

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Women set to undergo radiation, rather than chemotherapy, for their disease also performed worse on memory and thinking tests before therapy.

The findings suggest that more can be done to help reduce stress and fatigue in breast cancer patients to alleviate their difficulties in thinking clearly, remembering things, and carrying out jobs and other responsibilities, said Bernadine Cimprich, the lead study author. Meditation, exercise, and psychological support may help, she said.

“There is a need for increased clinical awareness that cognitive problems can begin before any treatment and might get worse over time,’’ Cimprich, an associate professor emerita at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor, said Thursday in a telephone interview.

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