An interactive view of

Chemotherapy and the Brain

Hover on Brain sections for more information.

Prefrontal Cortex Boca's Area Parietal Lobe

Prefrontal Cortex

What is the prefrontal cortex important for?

The prefrontal cortex controls many qualities we consider very important. These include:
• Focusing your attention
• Planning
• Personality traits
• Decision making
• Behaving in a socially appropriate way
• Regulating emotions

What happens when the prefrontal cortex is damaged?

Damage to the prefrontal cortex can make it difficult for someone to control their behavior appropriately in a variety of situations. It can also cause negative changes in personality, in addition to problems with movement and speaking.

Boca's Area

What is Broca’s Area important for?

Broca’s Area helps us talk – it is important for speech and language.

What happens when Broca’s Area is damaged?

• Problems forming sentences
• Not being able to move your tongue, or muscles in your face, to speak
• Taking much longer to be able to speak

Parietal Lobe

What is the parietal lobe important for?

• Receives and processes sensory information (such touch, pain, and temperature)
• Interpreting visual (written language and math) and auditory (spoken language) information

What happens when the parietal lobe is damaged?

• Difficulty understanding sensory information
• Trouble reading
• Trouble understanding what others are saying.

Chemotherapy and the Brain

What parts of the brain are affected? 


*picture of brain with parts labeled-when you hover will come up with function, when you click on it will show bigger description of how its affected by chemo*

  • Reduced gray and white matter (de Ruiter et al., 2012)
    • Gray matter is necessary for muscle control (balance, precision, and coordination) and sensory perception (vision and auditory information), but also plays in role in memory, emotions, speech, and decision-making (Jiang et al. 2015)
      • Damage to gray matter causes difficulty interpreting sensory information along with issues with body movement (Han et al. 2017)
    • White matter is important for brain connectivity and processing speed (Jiang et al. 2015)
      • Damage is similar to that of gray matter, the individual will have issues when processing sensory and motor information due to signals being slowed. (Han et al. 2017)
  • Broca’s Area
    • Aids in the formation of speech and language (Flinker et al., 2015)
    • Damage to it can cause issues when trying to form sentences, leading to slower task completion due to excess time being needed to try and produce speech. (Hines, 2018)
  • Prefrontal Cortex
    • It is important for planning complex behaviors (such as focusing one’s attention), personality, decision making and impulsivity (Hill, 2017) 
    • Damage to it can make someone more impulsive as well as issues with both motor speed and verbal functioning. (Hill, 2017) 
  • Parietal Lobe
    • Receives and processes sensory information (things like touch, pain, and temperature) as well as interpreting visual (written language and mathematics) and auditory information. (Hines, 2018)
    • Damage can cause difficulty when trying to understand sensory information along with having trouble reading and language comprehension (Hines, 2018)

Cancer Treatment and the Brain

The brain can be affected by multiple forms of treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. “Chemobrain” is a common term used to describe some of the learning problems that can be experienced as a result of receiving chemotherapy. These usually show up a few years following treatment, so they are also termed ‘late effects’. These cognitive impairments include problems with memory and attention as well as an overall slowed development over time. Poor hand-eye coordination has also been found, along with behavior problems. These learning disabilities are more common when the child has received both chemotherapy and radiation. They also occur more often in younger patients and patients that have received higher doses of certain chemotherapy drugs.  

How might these brain changes affect a child’s performance in school?

The effects on the brain by chemotherapy combined with the psychological stress that cancer can cause can alter a child’s performance academically. Research shows that the inattention and memory loss seen in pediatric cancer survivors can make learning more difficult in a classroom. Earlier on cognitive deficits can cause problems with fine motor coordination, such as handwriting. As childhood cancer survivors mature, they may see a deficit in executive function — mental processes that allow for planning, organizing, and completing tasks. These impairments may lessen their ability to work as efficiently as other students; so they must use more brainpower to perform as well and therefore may fatigue quicker. This need for greater cognitive activation can also cause less accuracy in high demand situations, as they cannot reach their higher-level thinking in time.  All of these disadvantages may cause a child to perceive their abilities as lower and actually decrease their ability to finish tasks in a standardized amount of time. 

    Although many of these issues have been identified, the exact effects of chemotherapy on the brain has been difficult to pinpoint because of the overlap with other impacts of cancer diagnosis, such as depression, surgery, or changes in hormone levels. However, understanding how chemotherapy changes the brain and how that affects functioning in a school setting is one step closer to giving pediatric cancer survivors the assistance they need. 

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Douaud, G., et al. (2012). Late effects of high-dose adjuvant 

chemotherapy on white and gray matter in breast cancer survivors: 

converging results from multimodal magnetic resonance imaging 

[Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t]. Human Brain Mapping, 33(12), 

2971-2983. doi:10.1002/hbm.21422.

Flinker, N., Korzeniewska, A., Shestyuk, A. Y., Franaszczuk, N.F., 

Dronkers, N.F., Knight, R.T., and Crone, N.E. (2015). Redefining the 

role of Broca’s area in Speech. Proceedings of the National Academy 

of Sciences. 112(9) 2871-2875; doi:10.1073/pnas.1414491112.

Galic, M. A., Riazi, K., & Pittman, Q. J. (2012). Cytokines and brain 

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Han, X. M., Tian, H. J., Han, Z., Zhang, C., Liu, Y., Gu, J. B., … Cao, X. 

(2017). Correlation between white matter damage and gray matter 

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Hill, R. (2017). Prefrontal Cortex. Retrieved from

Hines, T. (2018). Brain Anatomy, Anatomy of the Human Brain. 

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