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Quality of Life Study

Chemotherapy and the Brain

How does cancer therapy relate to the brain?

Besides killing cancer, we think that chemotherapy also causes damage to healthy cells.  Here is where the brain enters our story.  We used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to have a close-up look at differences between children who were treated for cancer and children who were not exposed to cancer treatment.  Have a look at the video below to see what structural MRI looks like.

Brain damage after cancer treatment

Some leukemia survivors experience something called ‘leukoencephalopathy’, or LE.  In the figure below we show what LE may look like.  As you can see, small regions in the white matter of the brain have an unusual appearance compared to the rest of the white matter.  For the most part, it is thought that LE appears shortly after treatment and will clear up after treatment has ended.  Our study hopes to explore this subject further.

Most damage from cancer treatment is not so easily visible!

We are studying long-term outcomes of brain development after leukemia treatment. We need to study many more patients before we have a complete picture. So far, we think that certain regions in the brain are smaller in leukemia survivors compared with peers that have not been treated.  We also find that these subtle differences may be related to performance on memory tasks, for example.  We call this type of relationship a correlation.  Establishing a correlation between brain structure and functional impairments could give us insight on where to focus our attention for treating the long-lasting side effects of cancer treatment.