Many patients that undergo chemotherapy report lingering effects of the disease, or from treatment protocols. Some individuals report that experience problems with cognition, clear thinking, memory, focus, concentration, and staying organized which they call “brain fog” or “chemo brain.”
The relationship between inflammation and cancer is still under intense study. Immune inflammation plays a major role during different stages of tumor development, from recognition of the cancer cells, to metastasis, to resolution of the disease. There are proven complex interactions between immune and cancer cells during which there appears to be “cross-talk.”
Chemotherapeutic medications are, of necessity, cytotoxic. The medications cause the death of cells (apoptosis) by programming their death or by interfering with certain biochemical processes within the cell.
The relationship of inflammatory immune cells and dead cells is a complex one. Whenever a cell dies because of infection or injury, inflammatory immune cells release inflammatory cytokines, messages that activate immune cells to clean up debris, and start the healing process.
Chemotherapy, in which both healthy and cancerous cells are killed, can have unintended effects. The medications can damage immune cells and their DNA; the very cells that the body needs to stop cancer cells from multiplying, to clean up the dead cells, and heal the body after cytotoxic challenge.
An example of such a possible problem is tumor lysis syndrome. When large numbers of cells are killed by chemotherapeutic agents, the dying cells release vast amounts of inflammatory-triggering compounds. The body is simply overwhelmed by these factors, resulting in significant immunological and chemical disruptions throughout the body.
A limited number of studies, still to be replicated, suggest that long after treatment has ended, healthy brain cells continue to die off. And at least one study has shown altered brain structure in individuals that had undergone chemotherapy a year previously. These results however, were not seen in patients that had received chemotherapy three years previously.
The relationship between inflammation, cancer, and cancer therapy, is not understood. However, the available science suggests that limiting excessive inflammatory responses by the immune system, may help minimize the adverse effects of chemotherapy, especially as it relates to the brain.