Yesterday, The New York Times’ “Vital Signs” column features a piece about a study that analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It shows that, after controlling for variables like age, income and overall health, adults with a history of cancer have a 40 percent greater chance of suffering from cognitive problems like difficulty concentrating. Of the 6,000 or so in the survey, 8 percent of those who never had cancer had problems; compared with 14 percent who had a history of cancer.
In the cancer numbers games that I’ve been thrust into lately, only a 14 percent chance of fuzzy brain actually counts as decent odds. But really. It’s not enough to worry about heart failure, and chemo drugs that burn your veins and make your bones brittle and your skin dry out? That’s not even mentioning the dreaded hair loss, nausea, muscle aches, and the veritable ghoul’s carnival of other possible side effects. Now, I’ve got to worry about being a noodle head as well?
Actually, this study, led by a University of Miami researcher, shows that that the bubble head risk isn’t linked to whether you get chemo or not. Something about having cancer seems to heighten your risk of losing mental wattage. It might be the radiation, it might chemical changes in the brain that result from the disease, or it might just be the psychological stress of facing cancer, one of humanity’s larger bogeymen.
If I do end up with foggy thinking, at least I’ll have some sense of what’s going on. I’ve agreed to be part of a clinical trial that seeks to clarify the University of Miami findings. UCSF researchers will measure my cognitive function, before, during and after chemotherapy. Any day now, I expect I’ll get a call from the clinical trial coordinator about it.
I sure hope I’ll be able to concentrate well enough to read the UCSF study when it comes out.