Tracking down a cancer-related bane of the brain

January 24, 2012 | by City of Hope Staff

City of Hope’s Sunita Patel, Ph.D., is getting closer to tracking down the causes of cancer-related cognitive decline — or “chemo brain,” as patients call it — thanks to a grant from the American Cancer Society. A three-year, $702,000 grant will help the neuropsychologist understand how breast cancer and its treatment may cause thinking problems and fatigue in women.

Photo of Sunita Patel Sunita Patel

It’s an extension of a project she started in 2009 with funding from the National Cancer Institute, and it addresses an area of growing research interest: cancer survivors’ quality of life and the effects of their treatment.

Several studies have shown that some breast cancer patients have persistent troubles with memory, concentration and fatigue even years after treatment, but few studies have followed women to track when symptoms start and how symptoms progress after treatment. Patel is studying nearly 250 postmenopausal women, both with and without breast cancer, to look for the origins of the problem.

She not only is following women’s ability to think and remember using objective tests, but researchers also are looking at markers in women’s blood. Patel hopes to better understand how and when symptoms arise, how long they last, their relationship to specific treatments and whether certain women are at particular risk. Women with other conditions, like diabetes, might be especially vulnerable, she says.

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