Julie Walters, who played Molly Weasley in seven Harry Potter movies, announced that she beat stage 3 bowel cancer in 2020, and that her chemotherapy turned out to be "fine."
She was fortunate. Around 75% to 80% of cancer patients experience “chemo brain” — confusion, memory lapses, and trouble with words and focus. Although for many, the fogginess clears nine to 12 months after treatment, it persists for 10% to 20% of patients.
Finally, there's good news for anyone contending with those life-dimming side effects. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has uncovered the molecular changes that chemotherapy causes. It turns out that it alters an important cellular pathway in the brain that's linked to cognitive function.
Researchers also found that there are already two drugs approved for treating multiple sclerosis that can halt those cognition-damaging biochemical changes. They're called S1PR1-antagonists.
One MS drug, Gilenya, is also being studied to see if it can prevent neuropathic pain in patients with breast cancer who were treated with Paclitaxel.
If you have gone through chemo, are going through it now, or are scheduled to, talk to your oncologist about the status of these studies. Ask if the drugs have been used safely off-label in patients (it may be too early to know that) and keep track of how the research progresses.
And know that despite potential side effects, chemotherapy is lifesaving. It may cure cancer or reduce symptoms on its own, and it can make surgery and radiation treatments more effective.