- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Living well after cancer
- Managing side effects
- Changes in thinking and memory
Changes in thinking and memory
Many cancer survivors say they have difficulty concentrating and remembering things. This is called cancer-related cognitive impairment. Other terms used to describe this include “chemo brain” and “cancer fog”. These changes may make you feel anxious, upset or frustrated.
Thinking and memory changes may be caused by the cancer or cancer treatments, medicines, anxiety or depression, or other health issues. These problems usually improve with time, although for some people it may take a year or more to see improvements. Tell your doctor about any thinking or memory problems you are having, and if they are affecting your day-to-day life or your work.
Managing changes in thinking and memory
- Get plenty of sleep. Deep sleep is important for memory and concentration.
- Use a diary or online calendar to keep track of appointments or set reminders on your phone.
- Carry a small notepad or download an app to your phone so you can jot down things you need to remember.
- Use your brain as much as you can – learn a language or musical instrument, do crosswords and puzzles, take up a new hobby.
- Do some gentle exercise each day. This can help you feel more alert.
- Do tasks one at a time rather than multi-tasking. Use a whiteboard to help plan your day.
- Put personal items (e.g. wallet, keys) in a dedicated place at home and at work so you can find them easily.
For more on this, see Changes in thinking and memory.
Podcast: Brain Fog and Cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Michael Jefford, Medical Oncologist and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lucy Bailey, Nurse Counsellor, Cancer Council Queensland; Philip Bullas, Consumer; Dr Kate Gunn, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, SA; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Kim Kerin-Ayres, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Survivorship, Concord Hospital, NSW; Sally Littlewood, Physiotherapist, Seymour Health, VIC; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health,VIC; Melanie Moore, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Supervisor, University of Canberra Cancer Wellness Clinic, ACT; June Savva, Senior Clinician Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash Cancer Centre, Monash Health, VIC; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner and Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, NSW; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Professor of Cancer Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lyndell Wills, Consumer.
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