'Chemotherapy is the hallmark of conventional cancer treatment. In spite of the bevy of unpleasant side effects, chemo remains the go-to for treating many different cancers and is even used in palliative care. While chemo drugs are considered “healing” medicines, the truth is that these drugs are capable of causing long-term damage to the body and the brain. As a side effect, cognitive deficits related to chemo are estimated to effect some 75 percent of patients with cancers effecting areas of the body outside the central nervous system.
A growing number of experts are now speaking out about the deleterious effects chemotherapy has on cognition — and there is no shortage of research to support what they’re saying. Multiple chemo drugs have been implicated in the instance of “chemo brain,” and it turns out these drugs are capable of damaging essential structures within the brain. Studies show that while the industry claims chemo brain is only temporary, the effects chemo has on cognition can be long-term. Estimates suggest chemo brain may last anywhere from a few months to an entire decade.
Chemo on the brain
As Psychology Today reports, a number of chemo drugs have been identified in the onset of chemo brain. These include carmustine, cisplatin and cytarabine, along with many others. Past research has shown that these drugs had negative effects on oligodendrocytes, a type of brain cell. Specifically, these chemo drugs increased oligodendrocyte death within the dentate gyrus and hippocampus — regions of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. Research has shown that other cancer drugs are also capable of harming oligodendrocytes.'
Read more: Chemotherapy and the brain: How this “healing” treatment actually damages cognition
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