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Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause problems with cognitive (mental) functions, such as concentration, memory and the ability to multitask. Most chemotherapy patients experience these effects, sometimes referred to as “chemobrain” or brain fog, to some degree, although doctors are unable to predict who might be affected.

The cognitive effects of chemotherapy for some are long-lasting. A small percentage of patients have long-term effects known as "chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment." The symptoms include a mental fogginess and effects on:

  • Memory
  • Word retrieval
  • Concentration
  • Processing numbers
  • Following instructions
  • Multitasking
  • Setting priorities

If you have trouble focusing or trusting your memory, try these tips:

  • Write down reminders to yourself.
  • Use a calendar, daily organizer or mobile app to keep track of appointments. 
  • Place items such as car keys, cell phones and planners in the same place.
  • Minimize distractions by putting your cell phone away when working. 
  • Exercise. Ask your healthcare team for an exercise program. 
  • Allow extra time to accomplish personal and professional activities.
  • Avoid alcohol and other substances that alter your mental state. 
  • Ask for help. Be honest with your healthcare team, family and friends about any struggles you encounter. 


Effects of Childhood Cancer on Learning 

For some childhood cancer survivors, cognitive effects can lead to learning problems that can affect performance in school. Click here to learn more. 

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