Chemotherapy is often blamed for memory loss and other mental declines in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer – a condition sometimes called "chemo brain." But a new study has found the therapy itself isn't always to blame and that stress may be a more significant factor.
Psychologists at the University of Missouri found breast cancer patients underwent surgery but not chemotherapy or hormone-replacement therapy experienced similar cognitive declines as those getting chemo. Patients who were stressed and had inadequate coping skills were more likely to experience mental issues.
"Women who reported higher stress levels also performed lower on memory and attention tests," said lead researcher Stephanie Reid-Arndt. "It appeared that passive coping strategies, such as denial, disengagement and helplessness, contributed to this relationship. This suggests lacking proactive ways to deal with stress can contribute to patients' experience of cognitive difficulties."
Reid-Arndt said the findings highlight the need to help breast cancer patients develop effective coping strategies to deal with stress, which has also been linked to lowered immune system functions.
The study was published in the Journal for Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings.