Researchers are one step closer to finding a potential treatment for ‘chemobrain’, a health condition that impacts up to 60 per cent of women after they receive chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Some women who undergo chemotherapy treatment experience confusion and find it difficult to concentrate. It was previously thought chemobrain was caused by the stress of a cancer diagnosis, the treatment itself, changes in hormones in the body, as well as the natural ageing process. Now, a study published in the PLOS-ONE Journal by Dr Adam Walker from Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW Sydney has found that some cancer patients observe cognitive impairment prior to treatment.
“This suggests the cancer alone may be sufficient to induce cognitive impairment, but the mechanisms through which this occurs are unknown,” Walker said in a statement.
Using animal models, Walker was able to target tumour-to-brain communication and discovered that breast cancer cells released inflammatory markers that cause inflammation in the brain. A low dose of anti-inflammatories was sufficient in completely blocking breast cancer cells from causing memory loss without impacting other aspects of the disease.
“This suggests that the tumour itself can actually hijack the brain via inflammation to cause cognitive impairment, but that we can use anti-inflammatories to block this process,” Walker explained.
In the past, interventions to treat cancer-induced cognitive impairment have focused on behavioural therapies such as brain training, but these don’t tap into the biological processes of tumour-to-brain communication.
The study is the first to show that tumour-to-brain communication can be disrupted by using anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin to reduce the inflammation that causes cognitive impairment in the first place. Researchers are now hopeful the new findings could transform how cancer patients view and manage their treatment.
“This work represents a new frontier for neuroscience in cancer research,” CEO of NeuRA Professor Peter Schofield said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to eradicate the negative side effects of cancer treatment, so that quality versus quantity of life decisions no longer need to be made.”
Chemobrain has been an ongoing issue for breast patients who are treated with chemotherapy and the new research could be a big win for the 68,824 Australians and 1.7 million people diagnosed with breast cancer annually around the world.
The next step for Walker is to research at how anti-inflammatories work to block other aspects of chemobrain including learning and concentration difficulties. Clinical trials are also hoped for the future.
“We think anti-inflammatory drugs could be a potentially cheap and safe intervention to prevent and treat chemobrain, but we need to learn more about who should take them and when during the cancer journey,” Walker concluded.