Web Date: September 9, 2008
Battling cancer can be hellish, not only as a result of the direct effects of the malignancy but also because some patients suffer significant memory loss and attention problems. Now, Gregory W. Konat of West Virginia University and colleagues have demonstrated that chemotherapy can cause these cognitive difficulties, known as chemofog or chemobrain, and that they can be treated (Metab. Brain Dis. 2008, 23, 325).
First, the researchers treated healthy rats either with saline or with adriamycin and cyclophosphamide, which are used to treat breast cancer. They then used an electric shock to train the rats to avoid a darkened compartment in an enclosure. When the rats were subsequently returned to the enclosure, those that received the chemotherapy were much more prone to enter the dangerous dark compartment.
This "profound dysfunction of short-term memory" was prevented by coadministering the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine during chemotherapy, according to the authors. The results suggest that oxidative stress caused by chemotherapy, expressed in the form of cell-damaging free radicals, harms the brain. Previous studies indicate antioxidant supplements won't interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy, the researchers note.
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