Thinking and memory changes
Some people diagnosed with breast cancer notice changes in the way that they think and remember information. This is called cancer-related cognitive impairment, but people may also refer to it as “cancer fog” or “chemo brain”.
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What causes thinking and memory changes?
The exact cause is unknown, but studies show that thinking and memory changes may be caused by the cancer itself, emotions such as anxiety and depression, cancer treatments, medicines given for surgery such as anaesthetic, and treatment side effects, such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, pain and hormone changes.
Coping with long-term effects
For most people, thinking and memory problems get better within the first year of finishing treatment. Others may experience more long-term effects.
Ways to cope with changes include:
- adjust your daily routine, e.g. write lists, use smartphone reminders, avoid distractions, pace yourself
- maintain a healthy lifestyle, e.g. exercise, relax, eat healthy foods
- improve your thinking and memory, e.g. crosswords, brain training
- tell your family and friends, and ask your health care team for help.
If you have severe or lasting changes to your thinking and memory skills, you can also see a clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist for cognitive rehabilitation. Speak to your health care team about accessing cognitive rehabilitation services, which may be available through some hospitals or psychologists.
Prof Bruce Mann, Professor of Surgery, The University of Melbourne, and Director, Breast Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Marie Burke, Radiation Oncologist, and Medical Director GenesisCare Oncology, QLD; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Ruth Groom, Consumer; Julie McGirr, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; A/Prof Catriona McNeil, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Roya Merie, Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Eva Nagy, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Sydney Oncoplastic Surgery, NSW; Gay Refeld, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Breast Care, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Genny Springham, Consumer.
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