We are currently looking for oncology pharmacists to join our team! If you are interested in joining ChemoExperts, please click here. Not interested? Hide this message.

Side Effect: Memory Loss/Chemo Brain

What is Memory Loss/Chemo Brain?

Memory loss refers to the inability to remember information or events that were previously learned. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including neurological diseases, head injuries, or aging. In patients with cancer the condition is commonly referred to as brain fog, chemo brain, or cancer-related cognitive impairment.

What does Memory Loss/Chemo Brain look like?

Memory loss can manifest in different ways, such as forgetting recent events, difficulty recalling names or words, or losing track of time. Other signs and symptoms can include:

Memory Loss/Chemo Brain

Click to enlarge

Who gets Memory Loss/Chemo Brain?

Studies estimate that up to 75% of patients undergoing treatment for cancer will experience some type of cognitive change. In the majority of patients, the changes are subtle and can occur for a variety of reasons. The diagnosis of cancer itself is often stressful which can affect memory. If cancer has metastasized to the brain that can also lead to issues with cognitive function. Additionally, certain cancer treatments including bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and radiation have been shown to increase the risk of memory loss. Lastly, complications from treatment such as anemia, dehydration, and fatigue can also have a negative impact on brain function.

How long does last?

Memory loss from cancer treatment can last for several months to several years depending on the person but most patients feel back to normal as treatment ends or when their dosage changes.

How to prevent Memory Loss/Chemo Brain

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent the cognitive changes that may occur during cancer treatment. However, engaging in regular physical exercise, eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, and staying mentally active are good ways to improve overall memory function.

How to treat Memory Loss/Chemo Brain

Treating memory loss in cancer patients can be challenging, as it often requires a multi-disciplinary approach. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment but some approaches that may be helpful include cognitive rehabilitation therapy, medication, and lifestyle interventions.
Things you can do to help manage memory problems include planning your day, setting up routines, getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and giving your brain a workout with puzzles or other similar activities.


1) Magnuson A, Ahles T, Chen BT, et al. Cognitive Function in Older Adults With Cancer: Assessment, Management, and Research Opportunities. J Clin Oncol 2021;39(19):2138-2149

2) Janelsins MC, Kesler SR, Ahles TA, and Morrow GR. Prevalence, mechanisms, and management of cancer-related cognitive impairment. Int Rev Psychiatry 2014;26(1):102-113

3) Ahles TA, Root JC, and Ryan EL. Cancer- and cancer treatment-associated cognitive change: an update on the state of the science. J Clin Oncol 2012;30(30):3675-3686

Created: January 18, 2024 Updated: February 21, 2024