Public Release: 

Researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center study exercise to curb 'chemo brain'

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Researchers at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center are studying whether exercise can help curb memory and cognitive problems experienced by many cancer survivors following chemotherapy, with the help of funding from the Foundation established by well-known cancer survivor and athlete, Lance Armstrong.

The funding will allow Charles Matthews, Ph.D., and Laurel Brown, Ph.D., in the Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, and a team of researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram, to take a closer look at the chemotherapy side effect commonly referred to as "chemo brain" or "chemo fog," and determine whether starting a walking exercise program can help patients with these problems.

"A substantial number of cancer survivors who receive chemotherapy report mild to moderate cognitive impairment that persists following treatment. These impairments have been reported across a range of cancer types and chemotherapy agents," said Brown.

Participants will be asked to make three visits to Vanderbilt University Medical Center during this six-month study, and will be placed into either a walking exercise group or a control group. Study members in the exercise group will receive a personalized walking program that they can do at home, counseling to help them reach their exercise goals, and techniques to help with memory problems. People enrolled in the control group will immediately receive counseling and techniques to help wi

th memory problems, but will only be given the exercise program at the end of the six-month study period. All participants will be asked to complete measures of memory and cognitive function, physical activity and fitness, questionnaires, and to provide urine and blood samples. Anyone 18 and older who has received chemotherapy in the last five years, experienced persistent memory or cognitive problems since chemotherapy, does not already exercise regularly, and has no history of brain cancer, heart disease, or a serious medical condition that could be worsened by exercise, is eligible for the study.

Matthews said exercise at levels most adults can perform -- such as brisk walking for 30 to 45 minutes, four to five days a week -- has been shown to improve cognitive function in older adults. "A wealth of research now indicates that exercise participation preserves cognition function as we age. In addition, sedentary older adults without cancer who completed six months of exercise have been shown to improve their cognitive function. We want to see if exercise might help cancer survivors in the same way," said Matthews.

Matthews said the exercise intervention study is the first of its kind for cancer survivors. "To our knowledge this study would be the first to examine the influence of regular exercise on cancer survivors who experienced cognitive difficulties following chemotherapy."

Matthews and his research team hope to identify new tactics to help cancer survivors coping with "chemo brain" and provide substantial information to lead the way for further studies that address quality of life issues faced by cancer survivors.

Vanderbilt was one of 21 institutions across the country and in Rome, Italy, to receive cancer survivorship and testicular cancer research grants from the Lance Armstrong Foundation.


To find out more about participating in the study, call Cara Hanby at (615) 936-0997.

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