Reviewed by Dr. Lori Bernstein, core team member, neuropsychologist
Many people report experiencing cognitive challenges during and after cancer treatment. Cognitive challenges may be influenced by the type and location of cancer, the type and duration of treatment, the presence of other disease and medical conditions, and mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and stress.
People treated for cancer may notice changes in their cognitive abilities, including their concentration and ability to focus or multi-task. They may also find it harder to learn new information or recall previously learned information and to find words while speaking or writing. Gradual recovery usually happens after treatment is over, but it varies a lot between people. Some symptoms are minor, and others may be more bothersome. Persistent symptoms are more common in people who have had chemotherapy (often called “chemo brain” or “chemo fog”) even though these symptoms can occur in people who didn’t receive chemotherapy. The reasons why these changes occur are still unclear, but it is believed that there are many factors and the problems are made worse in stressful environments.
Cognitive challenges may persist when a tumour is located in the brain. Because the brain’s different parts are highly specialized for particular functions, the location and the size of the tumour will cause specific types of challenges. Also, brain tumour treatments, the unique physiology of the individual and various medications can also alter cognitive functioning.
Employees will need to consider how long they can concentrate on an activity and whether they require additional assistance to support (re)training. There may be periods during the day when employees feel more or less mentally alert. Being aware of these patterns will help employees and their supervisors identify work tasks and times when strategies for maximizing cognitive performance are needed.