General Question

trailsillustrated's avatar

Can chemotherapy cause a person to lose it mentally?

Asked by trailsillustrated (16746points) November 8th, 2012

I have a friend who is about seven or maybe five years into remission for leukemia. He had chemotherapy for three years. This person is a college professor and I have known him for many years. Last winter we were at a rock concert and I heard him telling people that he knew the singer personally and traveled with the band. I know this isn’t true. I lived with him as a rent paying room mate for a few months, his behaviour is so odd and irrational that I had to leave. In a hurry. I don’t remember him being crazy years ago. Could it be the chemo?

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10 Answers

marinelife's avatar


“The cognitive functions are defined and discussed. Factors that place cancer patients at high risk for disorders of cognition are presented along with the problem of semantic confusion in this area. The cognitive impairment found in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy is reviewed, as is the importance of the mental status examination and the treatment of delirium in cancer patients. Several illustrative case reports are presented.”

Chemotherapy and Cognitive Defects in Cancer Patients

gailcalled's avatar

Yes. We call it, laughingly, brain fog.

I had four chemo sessions three weeks apart and was somewhat spacey for a while.

Three years is a long time, even though you did not provide details.

How old is your friend? Aging may compound his problems.

trailsillustrated's avatar

@gailcalled he just turned 66. He finished up chemo about five years ago I think. He was always somewhat eccentric, but I don’t recall him being raving batshit like he is now. I only know he had chemo for three years, for a severe type of leukemia.

gailcalled's avatar

He may have senile dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s. Is there a family member you could mention this to?

trailsillustrated's avatar

@gailcalled not really, but perhaps someone at the school will notice. He has been raving up there about a student with a concealed weapon. Thanks all, I’m going to stay away from him which is sad, because we were old, old friends.

trailsillustrated's avatar

@gailcalled thanks for the link, sounds right, we went to see a memorable 3d movie, a very good movie, and a couple days later in the car he turned to me and said, “you just got to see (whatever it was) in 3d!! It was incredible!” I looked at him like….huh

Jeruba's avatar

When my husband was about to begin chemotherapy, the patient info brochure warned him about what it called “chemo brain.” He did have it, but not too severely. We were glad to know it was a normal effect and not a separate cause for worry.

I think the word for your friend’s storytelling is “confabulating.” I can’t give you anything more than a layman’s comment on it, but it sounds like a little more than you’d expect from chemo effects.

gailcalled's avatar

@Jeruba makes a good point. I forgot where my keys and glasses were and an occasional appointment for a hair cut. But I could remember whether I had brushed my teeth and had my morning cup of tea.

My mother gradually developed senile dementia, which is defined as severe short-term emory loss, but she was never hostile, enraged or belligerent.

Jeruba's avatar

@gailcalled, at our house the response “I don’t know. Is my toothbrush wet?” stands for a lot of lapses that we try to laugh at.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Absolutely. My mom went through chemo and radiation for her breast cancer and she seemed a whole different version of herself. She’s okay now, but like her eyes would kind of roll, very spacey, the new meds jacked her up as well, she went through a whole grief/depression thing, it’s really hard on them.

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