Unlocking Clarity: Navigating Chemo Brain During Cancer Treatment

What is chemo brain?

Chemo brain is also known as chemo fog or cancer-related cognitive impairment. It is a common side effect for many cancer patients undergoing treatment, particularly chemotherapy.

Chemo brain refers to changes patients may notice in their in cognitive function during or after cancer treatment. Cognitive function is the combination of skills such as learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, decision making, problem solving and focus that we use in our everyday lives.

It is not fully known how common chemo brain is. It has been estimated that it can affect up to 75% of cancer patients in some form.

Download Your Free Cancer Diagnosis Checklist

Be more informed and have an active role in your care; download ‘Questions to Ask Your Doctor After Cancer Diagnosis’.

Learn more

Treatment Options & Coping Strategies

There are a number of possible treatment options or coping strategies patients can use to help deal with chemo brain. Medications and herbs have been studied as possible treatments for chemo brain. There is no strong evidence to suggest that these are beneficial to patients or that they are proven treatments that help overcome chemo brain.

Strategies that have shown to have some benefit in helping to patients to improve concentration and decision-making and other effects of chemo brain during cancer treatment include:

Brain and memory training

Regularly exercising your brain can help manage chemo brain symptoms. Doing activities like puzzles, brain games and problem-solving quizzes, learning new hobbies, or playing musical instruments can use and activate the brain in different ways. Activating and using the brain can improve short-term memory and can support good mental health.

If chemo brain is making you feel confused, try using memory aides such as checklists, calendars and smartphone apps to keep track of your appointments or daily tasks. Sticking to a daily routine can help to lower the number of decisions you need to make, and help you feel in better control.


Engaging in everyday physical activity may improve cognitive function. Physical activity can be many things and will depend on how you feel. Consider small amounts of light exercise each day. Activities such as walking or gentle yoga are ideal.

Mind and body

Techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness can lower anxiety or a racing mind, and improve focus. You may also find you can manage worry and stress through relaxation techniques like acupuncture or yoga.

Sleep and rest

Try and prioritise rest. A lack of rest or sleep can cause you to feel tired and intensify your ability to have trouble focusing, remembering, thinking and making decisions. Short naps or breaks during the day can refresh your mind and combat fatigue.

Healthy lifestyle choices

Enjoying a healthy lifestyle has many benefits. Aim to eat a balanced diet with foods that give you energy and nutrients, look for foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Drinking water and staying hydrated will support overall brain health. Try to limit or cut out alcohol, caffeine and smoking.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals to identify and modify thought patterns and behaviours, particularly negative ones. CBT provides practical strategies to help patients better cope with memory challenges, reduce worry and fear, and improve cognitive function. It is done through therapy with a qualified allied health professional. Psychologists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, counsellors or mental health nurses may be able to support you through regular therapy. If chemo brain disrupts your daily life, consider seeking help from allied health professionals.

Is there hope for treatment in the future?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made promising discoveries in supporting people with chemo brain symptoms. They’ve explored a non-invasive treatment that stimulates gamma frequency brain waves.

The treatment involves daily exposure to light and sound with a frequency of 40 hertz. It aims to stimulate gamma oscillations in the brain, which play a crucial role in attention, perception, and memory.

This new approach could reduce chemo brain symptoms and potentially benefit people with various neurological disorders. Researchers continue to explore and refine this treatment to enhance its effectiveness in clinical settings and daily life.

Coping with chemo brain

Chemo brain is a challenging part of going through cancer treatment. It’s important to recognise that it is often temporary. By starting some of the above coping strategies patients can feel better prepared to navigate chemo brain.

At Icon, we are here to support you through your treatment. If you or someone you know is experiencing chemo brain, please talk with your Icon care team. We can listen to your concerns and help you access the right resources that will support you through chemo brain.

The content found on the Icon Cancer Centre website is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. It is not a substitute for consulting with a qualified medical professional. Our website is designed to provide information and support to the general public. Please be mindful that we do not dispense medical advice, and for personalised medical guidance, we strongly advise you to consult with a qualified medical professional or doctor.

Back to Cancer Information Library


Contact us
Become a patient