General cancer information

Memory changes (chemo brain)

General cancer information

Memory changes (chemo brain)

Memory changes are common with cancer and cancer treatments. This is sometimes called chemo brain or chemo fog. Health professionals describe these changes as cognitive problems.

Memory changes or chemo brain is not the only cause of cognitive problems. If you have severe headaches, blurred vision, confusion or trouble talking, contact your doctor or nurse.

Use the contact numbers you have been given. If you can’t get hold of anyone, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment.

Be prepared

Know what to expect

You may notice that you can’t remember or think as clearly as you used to.

Changes you may notice include:

  • forgetting things like names, appointments and important dates
  • trouble concentrating
  • being disorganised and taking longer to finish things
  • trouble finding words
  • mood swings
  • difficulty getting thoughts together
  • problems making sense of information.   

Ask your doctor or nurse if you are likely to develop chemo brain.

Start a symptom diary

Keeping track of your symptoms can help you and your cancer care team to manage them better.

Talk to your doctor or nurse to see if there is a diary they recommend, or use the example in the resources provided on this page.

Know who to contact if you have a problem

Ask your doctor or nurse:

  • when you should call for help or advice
  • who you should contact
  • how to contact them (including at night or weekends).

Keep this information where you can easily find it.


Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Managing symptoms

Managing chemo brain

Some things can make thinking and concentrating more difficult, including:

  • pain
  • anaemia
  • anxiety
  • some medicines
  • lack of sleep
  • infections
  • reduced exercise, nutrition and fluids
  • fatigue.

Managing these may help you think more clearly.

Ongoing cognitive problems

Often changes are mild and improve when you finish treatment.

Sometimes they can take longer to improve. This can affect how you feel and manage daily life. If this happens to you ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a clinical psychologist.


Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

My notes: