Can Chemo Make Alzheimer’s Worse?

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Chemotherapy is an aggressive way of treating specific medical conditions. It is commonly associated with cancer treatments, but may also be used to treat people with lupus, bone marrow disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Like all medical treatments, there are risks of side effects of chemotherapy. Researchers have noted that almost 7 out of 10 patients who are treated for cancer have cognitive issues after cancer treatments. These statistics have raised the question of whether or not chemotherapy presents a specific risk for patients with Alzheimer’s.

Chemotherapy and Related Medical Procedures

Patients with specific medical issues, including cancer, may be prescribed chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is an intensive treatment using several chemicals to target specific medical issues. It can kill cancerous cells. It can also reduce the size of tumors. Individuals may receive chemotherapy before medical procedures, such as bone marrow transplants. When chemotherapy is used to treat cancer, patients receive a combination of over 100 chemicals in their treatments. Individuals receiving chemotherapy may be required to have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Although it’s common to use an MRI for cancer screening to diagnosing patients, MRIs may also be used to evaluate the performance of chemotherapy treatments.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is one of the conditions grouped under dementia. They are not synonymous, because dementia is a broad term that includes several other conditions. Individuals with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in behavior. They suffer from memory loss and confused thinking. Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects people under the age of 65, while others may not develop Alzheimer’s until they are over 65. It’s a progressive disease. Early stages may include forgetfulness, short-term memory loss and issues completing routine tasks. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may lose all memory of family and friends and be unable to engage in conversations. Sites such as provide detailed information about Alzheimer’s and treatment options.

Relationship Between Chemotherapy and Alzheimer’s

Patients treated for cancer may develop cognitive issues, such as memory loss. They may also lack the ability to multitask. Symptoms typically fade several months after the patient completes treatment. Individuals with the APOE4 gene, however, may experience long-term cognitive issues. It has been established that the APOE4 gene increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Individuals who receive chemotherapy and have this gene are more likely to face long-term issues. It isn’t clear that this gene causes the symptoms these individuals have, but researchers have observed that individuals who have this gene are more likely to experience memory and multitasking issues after they have completed chemotherapy. Research is ongoing, and individuals who have this gene will want to consult with their physician about their specific risks and alternatives for treatment.

Other Risks from Chemotherapy

While chemotherapy kills cancerous cells or reduces the size of tumors, it may also be killing good cells in a patient’s body. Individuals who receive chemotherapy may suffer short-term symptoms. Their hair may fall out. Others may be nauseous or struggle with fatigue. Vomiting, lack of appetite and pain are all common. Some patients may experience more severe symptoms. These include infertility and heart problems. Patients may even develop cancer from chemotherapy treatments. There is no risk of developing cancer from the MRI scans that chemotherapy patients may have.

Alternatives to Chemotherapy

Not all patients receiving chemotherapy receive the same prescription. Doctors consider the patient’s health, their diagnosis, and the goals of the treatment when determining what to prescribe. In some cases, patients may opt for alternative treatments. Options include acupuncture, alterations to the patient’s diet, hormone therapy, exercise, immunotherapy, massage, and Tai Chi. Stem cell transplants may also be an option. Individuals who have the gene that puts them at risk of developing Alzheimer’s may opt for one or a combination of several alternative treatments to combat their cancer while mitigating the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.