Chemo brain

‘Chemo brain’ is the common term used for a condition known as cancer-related cognitive impairment.

On this page:
"OMG sometimes I thought I was going mad until I realised brain fog or chemo brain comes with the cancer. If I use lists or a diary this has helped with my memory for some things"

What is chemo brain?

Chemo brain can be a very frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment. Chemo brain affects a third of patients who receive chemotherapy and chemo brain can also affect patients who receive only radiotherapy. The causes of the concentration and memory problems are not well understood. It is probably the combination of the effects of the cancer and of the cancer treatments. These effects include inflammation and changes to chemicals, hormones, and blood flow in the brain.

Patients at more risk of developing chemo brain:

  • Older patients
  • Female patients
  • Longer chemotherapy regimens
  • High dose chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • Radiation therapy to the brain
  • Intrathecal chemotherapy
  • Patients with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Patients with depression and anxiety
  • Patients with previous memory problems
  • Patients with brain lesions


  • Unusually disorganised
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being forgetful
  • Problems with making decisions
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Forgetting names and having difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty learning new skills
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Feeling of mental fogginess
  • Short attention span
  • Short-term memory problems

Treatment and management

  • Control conditions that contribute to memory problems such as anaemia, depression, and sleep problems
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Managing chemo brain symptoms. This may include repetitive brain exercises, tracking memory problems and stress relief techniques
  • Medications
  • Control the working environment
  • Have conversations in quiet places
  • Plan your day
  • Start a daily checklist
  • Stay organised
  • Do not take on too much
  • Write things down. Keep a diary or lists
  • Clear the mind of distractions
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Exercise the body and brain. Crossword puzzles and sudoku to train the brain
  • Alternative medicine such as art therapy, music therapy and relaxation exercises
  • Healthy diet
  • Tell friends and family so they can support you.
For more info see
EVIQ Memory changes and chemotherapy (chemo brain)

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