NATIONAL - It's not uncommon to find Brenda Oathout engrossed in a book. But not long ago, her reading was impacted by a side effect of chemotherapy - a memory condition called 'chemo brain.'
She says, "I would read a couple chapters of a novel, put it down, come back the next day and start reading and be clueless as to what had gone on. So I'd have to re-read it."
And the struggle to focus on everyday tasks took its toll. Oathout says, "The fatigue was just overwhelming, overwhelming."
Sadhna Kohli, Ph.D., M.P.H., sees "patients unable to do, unable to concentrate or remember things like they did before their cancer diagnosis. And these patients are usually younger women, or older women who are working, parents who aren't able to multi-task."
Doctor Kohli led a study with breast cancer patients, including Brenda, to see if a drug intervention could help. "We did a small study where we looked at a drug called Modafinil, which is FDA-approved for the excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy."
Patients in the study took either a placebo or the narcolepsy drug. Dr. Kohli says, "We found that this drug enhanced memory and attention skills in women who were taking it, compared to those who were not."
Brenda suspected she was on the real medication. "I noticed the fatigue was gone. I noticed that I wasn't struggling all day. My day had gone much smoother, and it gave me my life back."
Brenda continues to take Modafinil, also known as Provigil, meaning she can concentrate on her favorite page-turners.
The medication used in this study can be prescribed 'off-label' for patients suffering from chemo brain.
Doctor Kohli says her next study will look at brain activity in women before their chemotherapy treatment and then after to see what it may have done to brain function. Then, they'll follow the effects of Modafinil.