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Local Researchers Help Cancer Patients Deal With After Effects Of Chemotherapy

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Memory failure. Loss of focus. An inability to concentrate.

Cancer patients can suffer from all of these things, as chemotherapy has after-effects on the brain.

Now, local researchers are helping cancer survivors get their minds back to full working order.

CBS2 health reporter Lisa Sigell met with the researchers and the people they are helping.

Diana Franklin, an inflammatory breast cancer survivor, describes herself as “scatter-brained.” She’s taking a battery of tests, but it’s not for a grade in a class.

“Speaking of scatter brained, I have a loss of focus,” she says. “That’s a good example.”

Sigell has followed Franklin’s story for the past four years. Franklin beat the odds, but noticed her once-sharp brain wasn’t so sharp anymore.

After all she had been through: beating the cancer, the chemo, the radiation, to know her brain was affected, got her depressed.

“I’m finally feeling better. And then you realize something is wrong with your brain? It was scary and depressing.”

Franklin is now part of a UCLA study. It’s a five-week course that helps cancer survivors overcome cognitive difficulties.

Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of the Patients and Survivors Program at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, says what Franklin suffers from is called “chemo brain.”

“Twenty-five percent of women, after going through breast cancer treatment, will report difficulties with memory and concentration. The drugs that we give may directly affect the brain and slow its function,” Ganz says.

Men and women both get “chemo brain.” It can involve simple things, like forgetting keys. It can also be more problematic, causing patients to forget routine words.

While doctors are trying to figure out how cancer treatments specifically affect the brain, the goal is to help patients immediately.

Clinical psychologist Linda Ercoli says the program, which puts cancer survivors through a battery of tests, is showing great promise.

“People think, you’re done. Move on with your life. But a lot of women have these persistent thinking problems that really affect the quality of their lift from being annoying to disabling,” she says. “We also teach them how to apply the principles to their daily lives.”

Franklin believes her mind is healing along with her body.

“The program is giving me hope. When people, your loves ones, see a difference in your behavior and your memory, that to me is a wonderful life lesson and I’m very grateful.”

For more information about enrolling in the UCLA study, call 310-825-2520 or write bkahnmills@mednet.ucla.edu

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