Maggie's rolls out course to help people with 'chemo brain'

Tuesday 22 August 2023

A course to help people with ‘chemo brain’ is being rolled out in our centres across the UK after successfully helping people in Scotland.

‘Chemo brain’ – or Cancer Related Cognitive Change (CRCC)  is experienced by some people who have had cancer treatment including surgery, radiotherapy or hormone therapy. Problems include difficulties with memory, attention, executive function (e.g. planning, organising), and the speed at which people process information.

Most people will notice that the difficulties resolve naturally over time, particularly in the first months following the end of treatment. For others these difficulties will continue, and they can stop people moving forward with their lives or affect their quality of life.

Maggie’s Lead Psychologist, Lesley Howells said: Chemo brain - which can impact people who have never had chemo - can be really debilitating. It can mean even simple everyday tasks such as reading a book can become difficult.

We have seen how powerful these courses can be in helping people overcome these issues and are delighted to be rolling this course out across the UK to help as many people as possible living with memory and brain function issues caused by cancer treatment.

Dealing with symptoms of 'chemo-fog'

Memory and Concentration Changes after Cancer Treatment (MCCCT) has been used in the eight Scottish Maggie’s centres since 2019 after being developed by psychologists in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde in partnership with Macmillan, Maggie’s, NHS Scotland, & NHS NES as part of the Transforming Care After Treatment programme in 2016/2017.

It is now to be rolled out to 16 Maggie’s centres across England & Wales after being shown to be effective through a study by Andrea Joyce, Trainee Health Psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University.

She discovered those who had taken the course at Maggie's found it helpful in dealing with symptoms of ‘chemo-fog’, while coming together in a group at Maggie’s helped lessen feelings of isolation.

Andrea Joyce said: In a nutshell, everyone I spoke to found the group helpful.

They found that the knowledge provided and group format, where they could share with others experiencing similar things, addressed feelings of isolation post-treatment.

They also highlighted that CRCC impacted their sense of identity, particularly in the workplace, as some people could not return to their previous (sometimes high-level) role.

The Cognitive Rehabilitation Interventions (CRIs) mitigated this as it gave them a sense of empowerment.

Finally, things like coping strategies helped them to develop a cognitive and physical balance and accept that things have changed.

Dellasie's story

31-year-old Dellasie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

Three years on, following treatment, Dellasie still suffers from fatigue and neuropathy and chemo brain.

She said: Chemo-brain is still something that affects me. In the last year there have been a few incidents where I have left the oven on and came back to find my house smelling of smoke. Sometimes when I’ve been asked a question, a few seconds later, I’ve forgotten what it is. I wasn’t like this before and it’s frustrating. I sometimes wish I could have my old self back, but I realise that probably won’t happen.

How we can help

If you or someone you know is worried about the side effects of chemotherapy, we have expert staff in our centres available to help you. 

*Commonly known as ‘chemo brain, Cancer Related Cognitive Change (CRCC)’ can be experienced by people who have not had chemotherapy but only had surgery or radiotherapy or hormone treatments.

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