Confronting chemobrain: an in-depth look at survivors' reports of impact on work, social networks, and health care response

J Cancer Surviv. 2009 Dec;3(4):223-32. doi: 10.1007/s11764-009-0098-x. Epub 2009 Sep 16.


Introduction: Mild cognitive impairment following chemotherapy is one of the most commonly reported post treatment symptoms by breast cancer survivors. This deterioration in cognitive function, commonly referred to as "chemobrain" or "chemofog," was largely unacknowledged by the medical community until recent years. Although chemobrain has now become the subject of more vigorous exploration, little is known about this specific phenomenon's psychosocial impact on breast cancer survivors. This research documents in-depth the effects that cognitive impairment has on women's personal and professional lives, and our data suggest that greater attention needs to be focused on this arena of survivorship.

Methods: The results are based on an in-depth qualitative study of 74 white and African American breast cancer survivors in California who experience post-treatment side effects. The data reported herein were obtained through the use of focus groups and in-depth interviews.

Results: Our data indicate that cognitive impairment can be problematic for survivors, with many asserting that it is their most troublesome post treatment symptom. Survivors report diminished quality of life and daily functioning as a result of chemobrain. Respondents detail a range of coping strategies that they are forced to employ in order to manage their social and professional lives.

Discussions/conclusions: Chemobrain significantly impairs a proportion of cancer survivors, at great cost to them economically, emotionally, and interpersonally. This suggests that more research needs to be conducted on the psychosocial ramifications of post treatment symptoms in order to inform the efforts of the medical and mental health communities as well as the support networks of survivors.

Implications for cancer survivors: A better and broader understanding of the effects of cognitive impairment both in the medical community and among lay people could pave the way for improved social and psychological services for this population.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Employment / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Social Support*
  • Survivors / psychology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents