"Chemo-brain" may be linked to inflammation, say Rochester researchers

Barb Klube Falso with her 3 children.{ } In 2014 she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and suffered a side effect from treatment known as "chemo-brain."

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Barb Klube Falso was a busy mother of three with a full time job when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.

The photos from late fall of 2014 are a reminder of the toll of eight rounds of chemotherapy. "Everyone thinks with chemo you will lose your hair," she told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch. "That's a portion of it, but there are a lot of other things that are not talked about."

One of those struggles was a sudden and acute memory lapse she would experience without warning.

"I call it a black hole - the moments I couldn't remember a thing about what was happening," Barb said, saying it was more than simple forgetfulness.

She said it was so complete it was "frightening."

The condition is known as "chemo-brain."

"I mentioned it to a professional and he said, 'Do you use that excuse often?' I couldn't believe that is what a professional said to me," Barb said.

"Yes, chemo-brain is a real phenomenon," said Michelle Janelsins, PhD. Researchers at Wilmot Cancer Institute have documented that up to 80 percent of people in treatment experience chemo-brain, and for 2/3 of them, the symptoms will continue for up to a year after treatments end.

Yet in a new breakthrough, researchers have also linked it to inflammation in the blood that somehow may react to the chemo.

"It could be a new opportunity for us to have a new blood test that could potentially identify patients who are at risk for developing cognitive changes during treatment," said Dr. Janelsins.

Cancer treatments stole a year of Barb's life. However, this research may one day lead to a way to prevent treatment side effects from stealing even more precious time.

"There is not a single portion of my life that was not impacted by cancer," Barb said. "If you can minimize some of those impacts it's like getting your life back."