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Breast Cancer: Basic and Clinical Research

What You Do Not Know Could Hurt You: What Women Wish Their Doctors Had Told Them About Chemotherapy Side Effects on Memory and Response to Alcohol

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Breast Cancer: Basic and Clinical Research 2016:10 229-238

Original Research

Published on 20 Dec 2016

DOI: 10.4137/BCBCR.S38389


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Abstract

For many patients, a cancer diagnosis is followed by chemotherapy treatment, which works by attacking cells that are growing and dividing throughout the body. Although cancer cells grow and divide more quickly than healthy cells, both are targets. The loss of healthy cells is associated with side effects, such as memory loss and altered response to a variety of food and drugs. In this pilot study, we use the “Survey of female cancer treatments, effects on memory and alcohol awareness” to explore trends in female experience and awareness of side effects associated with chemotherapy. We examined 79 female cancer patients, 46 Spanish-speaking women in Puerto Rico and 33 English-speaking women in the continental United States, and compared the rates of a reported memory loss or an altered ethanol response following chemotherapy, whether or not potential side effects were discussed with a medical professional, and whether they experienced changes in alcohol consumption after treatment. A majority of participants reported having experienced short-term memory loss postchemotherapy. Changes in response to alcohol and an altered sensitivity to alcohol were also reported by 25%–47% of the respondents. Additionally, more than half of all female cancer patients reported that they wished they would have received information on the side effects of chemotherapy and secondary medications prior to treatment. The survey results suggest that medical professionals are not adequately informing women of common, potentially harmful side effects of chemotherapy. Women do wish to be more educated about potential side effects related to memory and alcohol and be given the opportunity to discuss potential outcomes with a medical professional prior to treatment to reduce the negative impact of treatment-related side effects on posttreatment quality of life.



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