Sneha Phadke, DO, assistant clinical professor in Hematology, Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation and a breast medical oncologist at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center (HCCC), is investigating the cognitive deficits that occur following chemotherapy, which has often been called “chemo brain.” Last month, Phadke and associate research scientist Kanchna Ramchandran, MS, PhD, were awarded an Institutional Research Grant from the American Cancer Society (via the HCCC) to learn more about it.
“Patients will often say they feel old or they feel like their brain has aged in some way,” Phadke said. “They can no longer multitask. They can’t remember things as well. They just have trouble functioning even at work. Chemo brain is a catchall term for these symptoms.”
With these pilot grant funds, the team is working to identify what a chemo brain diagnosis means and what criteria is required for the diagnosis based on objective changes.
“One of the tough parts about diagnosing chemo brain is there aren’t any diagnostic criteria,” Phadke said. “Things like anxiety, sleep deprivation, fatigue, and lots of other issues can confound that diagnosis, making it really hard to know if someone truly has chemo brain or if there are other issues contributing.”
In addition to observable changes indicating the presence of chemo brain at the cellular level, the researchers will look at potential treatment options. “Or even better,” Phadke said, “preventing it.”