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Chemotherapy and cognitive deficits: Mechanisms, findings, and potential interventions

  • Christian J. Nelson (a1), Nina Nandy (a2) and Andrew J. Roth (a1)

Chemobrain” is the phenomenon of cognitive decline some patients may experience after chemotherapy. Current research indicates the cognitive domains that may be most impacted by chemotherapeutic agents are visual and verbal memory, attention, and psychomotor functioning. These cognitive deficits can have an effect on a patient's ability to make informed treatment decisions, pursue occupational or academic pursuits, and his or her overall quality of life. The potential mechanisms that cause this disruption remain largely unknown, although contributing factors could be vascular injury and oxidative damage, inflammation, direct injury to neurons, autoimmune responses, chemotherapy-induced anemia, and the presence of the apolipoprotein E ε4 (APOE ε 4) gene. Interventions to help alleviate the symptoms of chemobrain could include nonpharmacologic treatment such as antioxidants and cognitive-behavioral therapy. In addition, patients may benefit from pharmacologic treatment such as recombinant human erythropoietin and psychostimulant drugs such as methylphenidate. It is important to note that the proposed therapeutics treat the symptoms of chemobrain based on the hypothesized mechanisms. Therefore, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that cause chemobrain, as well as a comprehension of what specific cognitive domains are impacted, is crucial in developing more specific treatments to improve patients' cognitive functioning and overall quality of life.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Christian J. Nelson, Ph.D., Clinical Instructor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 641 Lexington Ave, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022, USA. E-mail:
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Palliative & Supportive Care
  • ISSN: 1478-9515
  • EISSN: 1478-9523
  • URL: /core/journals/palliative-and-supportive-care
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