Brain Fog — It Is a Real Medical Term

Different strategies can help you think more clearly

You may have problems thinking, paying attention, and remembering things when you have cancer. The medical term for this is “cognitive problems.”

More than 70% of people with cancer have these problems, and about a third of people still have them after treatment. Attention, thinking, and memory problems can be more or less severe. Even mild problems can make daily activities difficult.

Many people with cancer have problems with memory, attention, and thinking. It can start during treatment or after it’s over.

It can happen because of the disease itself, treatments, and/or meds.

When you have it, you may find it hard to work, go to school, or enjoy social events.

For many people, brain fog lasts a short time. Others may have it for years.


Signs and symptoms may include the following:

  • Confusion

  • Feeling of mental fogginess

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty finding the right word

  • Being unusually disorganized

  • Difficulty learning new skills

  • Difficulty multitasking

  • Short attention span

  • Short-term memory problems

  • Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks

  • Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation

  • Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words

How severe these problems depend on many factors, including:

  • Your age

  • Your general stress level

  • Your type of cancer, where it is, and your treatment

  • If you had depression or anxiety in the past

  • How much help do you have access to for mental and emotional problems

How to Lift Your Brain Fog

Different strategies can help you think more clearly, such as:

Lifestyle changes

  • Eat healthy foods. They make you stronger and give you energy. If you’ve lost your appetite, try eating small meals every few hours instead of three large ones per day.

  • Eat foods high in protein, like chicken and eggs, and healthy carbohydrates, like oatmeal and sweet potatoes. Nutrient-rich vegetables will also help protect your brain.

  • Stop harmful habits. Inflammation may play a part in brain fog. You can lower it by staying away from toxins like alcohol and tobacco.

  • Get plenty of rest. When you get enough sleep, your brain will find it easier to learn, focus, and remember things. Try to get 6–8 hours each night.

  • Break a sweat. Regular aerobic exercise like walking, dancing, or biking will make you better able to focus and boost your mood, too.

  • Give your brain a workout. Do crosswords, work on a puzzle, read a book, or play online brain games. Each time you challenge your thinking, you can sharpen your focus.

  • Keep stress in check. Worry, anxiety, and stress can add to your brain fog. Learn ways to relax, whether it’s with meditation, yoga, or mindfulness techniques that teach you to stay in the moment.

  • Give yourself a break. Divide big tasks into “bite-sized” pieces. Reward yourself with a short break each time you finish one.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Talk with your health care team about counseling and other resources and ask family and friends to help when you need it.

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