Cognitive Changes

Cognitive changes are problems with thinking, including memory, concentration and behavior. Some cancers, cancer treatments and medications can cause cognitive changes, and there are also causes that are not related to cancer.

Experiencing such problems can affect your ability to work or complete every day tasks. It is very upsetting to realize that your cancer has been successfully treated, but as a result, you are experiencing cognitive problems.

Just because you had chemotherapy, radiation or surgery does not mean that you will definitely have cognitive changes; but it is important to know what to look for. When survivors experience slight changes in their ability to remember or concentrate well after receiving chemotherapy, they are experiencing a very mild form of dementia called “chemo-brain.”

Symptoms of “chemo-brain” may include

  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Difficulty remembering things that occurred recently 
  • Difficulty completing tasks 
  • Confusion 
  • Inability to think clearly 

Whether cognitive changes will improve or be permanent depends on their cause. Acute cognitive changes (delirium) that occur because of certain medicines often improve when you stop taking the medicine.  Chronic changes (dementia) are often not reversible, but may be improved if the cause of the problems can be corrected.

If you notice changes in your thinking, memory or behavior, keep a record of the problems that you have and ask your family or friends to watch for additional problems. Make an appointment to talk to your health care team about these symptoms as soon as possible. Treating the underlying condition often reduces or removes cognitive problems.

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