Thinking and memory changes
Some people diagnosed with breast cancer experience changes in the way that they think, process and remember information. This may be called cancer-related cognitive impairment, “cancer fog” or “chemo brain”. The exact cause is unknown, but studies show that it may be caused by the cancer itself, by treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and anaesthesia, and by treatment side effects, such as fatigue, sleeping problems, pain and hormonal changes.
For most people, thinking and memory problems get better within the first year of finishing treatment. Others may experience longer-term changes.
To manage any cognitive problems, you can:
- make changes to your daily routine, e.g. write lists, use smartphone reminders, avoid distractions, pace yourself
- maintain a healthy lifestyle, e.g. exercise, relaxation, nutritious diet
- improve your thinking and memory, e.g. crosswords, brain training
- tell your family and friends, and ask your health care team for help.
You can also see a clinical psychologist or neurospsychologist for cognitive rehabilitation. This therapy helps you to restore your thinking and memory skills, and develop strategies to manage any changes.
For more on this, see Changes in Thinking and Memory.
Prof Christobel Saunders, Professor of Surgical Oncology and Head, Division of Surgery, The University of Western Australia, and Consultant Surgeon, Royal Perth, Fiona Stanley and St John of God Subiaco Hospitals, WA; Dr Marie-Frances Burke, Radiation Oncologist, Medical Director, Genesis CancerCare Queensland, QLD; Kylie Campbell, Breast Care Nurse and Clinical Lead, Murraylands, McGrath Foundation, SA; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Annmaree Mitchell, Consumer; Sarah Pratt, Nurse Coordinator, Breast Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Wendy Vincent, Breast Physician, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick, NSW, and Clinical Director BreastScreen NSW, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Nicholas Wilcken, Director of Medical Oncology, Westmead Hospital, and Co-ordinating Editor, Cochrane Breast Cancer Group, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. This booklet is funded through the generosity of the people of Australia.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.