Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chemofog II

I've just arrived back from my CT scan. I won't get the results until later this afternoon. While I'm waiting, I thought I'd post about another appointment I recently had.

Back here I talked a little about post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment, often called "chemofog" or "chemobrain". A week or two ago, I had a chance to see one of Australia's leading specialists into the field. Formal study of the phenomenon is quite new (only in the last couple of years has it been recognised as a condition) and has focussed almost entirely on breast cancer patients (this is now being expanded to bowel cancers). Nonetheless, it seems that there is a consistent experience reported across many cancer patients of finding short-term memory and concentration more difficult during and after chemotherapy treatment. As I described my difficulties, I was told that I was a classic case. These complaints seem to be particularly common amongst more educated patients who rely on higher cognitive skills more often in their employment and it is usually upon returning to work that it becomes most noticeable. Although not nearly as pronounced as it was during treatment, my own frustrations surfaced again when I returned to trying to do some more "serious" reading, writing and lecturing in the second half of last year.

Although I am outside the scope of present research (having had the "wrong" kind of cancer), I was offered some follow-up with a neuropsychologist to more formally test for any cognitive impairment. The specialist I saw told me that my results are likely to still be within the "normal" range, since I probably began ahead of the game. Much more interesting would be to test how I go now compared with my function prior to treatment, which is, of course, impossible.

As I said, research into this phenomenon is still new, but the latest results seem to indicate that chemotherapy, while contributing to the problem, is not the only cause, as similar symptoms and testable impairment can be seen in cancer patients prior to their chemotherapy. Whether this is the result of stress or a function of the cancer itself (or even the body's reaction to it) remains to be determined. Interestingly, there are some similar cognitive problems encountered by sufferers of a few other chronic conditions (such as the early stages of HIV). Thus, calling this condition "chemofog" is probably a misnomer.

I'll post again once I have today's CT result.

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