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Best Life: Treating brain fog after breast cancer

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 6:28 AM CDT
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PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — People who have completed cancer treatments and chemotherapy often complain about brain fog, having a hard time with words or completing household tasks like making a grocery list. It’s a type of cognitive impairment often called “chemo brain.”

Cancer patients traditionally ring the bell marking the end of chemotherapy, but an estimated 20% of women who survive breast cancer complain of memory problems, weeks, months or years afterward.

“Usually with verbal memory, recalling words, having that tip of the tongue syndrome,” Robert Ferguson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of medicine at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe.

Ferguson and colleagues at Indiana University have developed and are evaluating a therapy called memory and attention adaptation training or MAAT. Psychologists work with patients to identify specific situations at home and work where memory issues are causing problems.

“For example, somebody who works in banking and finance may have difficulty transposing numbers from one spreadsheet to another spreadsheet on their computer,” said Ferguson. “And in that interim, they forget where they are in a step.”

The therapists then develop personalized strategies to improve memory function.

“It may be keeping an organized day planner. It also may be using internal skills such as verbal rehearsal or self-instruction, which is talking through tasks that involve steps,” Ferguson shared.

The researchers will also look at functional MRI scans of survivors to determine if there are changes in brain activation as a result of the MAAT treatment.

Pitt and Indiana University are enrolling 200 breast cancer survivors in the study. Half will receive MAAT and half will receive supportive therapy where they’ll work with a psychologist to build resilience in coping with memory problems. In a previous study, the researchers demonstrated improved memory following treatment among patients with traumatic brain injury.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor

Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.

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