Memory loss and concentration after cancer treatment

You may experience short-term memory loss or difficulties with concentration or attention span after your cancer treatment, particularly if you were treated with chemotherapy or radiation to the head.  
Memory may also be affected by surgery or hormonal treatments. 
Physical and emotional conditions related to cancer can add to memory problems.
These include:
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
Short-term memory loss can last for days, weeks, months or even years. 
Memory and concentration problems you may experience include: 
  • Finding it difficult to remember things
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Finding it difficult to follow direction
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Difficulty recalling details of conversations
  • Feeling agitated, with abrupt mood change 

What medical help is available for memory and concentration problems?

It is important to contact your doctor or nurse if you or your loved ones notice any of the above symptoms.
Your doctor can help to find the underlying cause of memory or thinking problems and treat them where possible.
Treatments to help improve memory may include medications and cognitive rehabilitation with a clinical psychologist or an occupational therapist. Relaxation techniques and visualisation may also be of help. 
Stress and anxiety, fatigue, anaemia and other medical conditions such as infections and hormone problems can cause memory and concentration problems or make them worse.  

How can I cope better with memory and concentration problems?

Keeping your brain active and using some simple techniques to stay organised and remember things can help you to cope with your memory problems.
Try spending an hour a day, 3 to 5 times a week, doing a brain-training activity you like such as reading, word and number games, brain teasers or jigsaws 
Keep a note of everything that is important to you as well as a list of things you need to do each day
Keep a detailed wall planner with a calendar of events at all times
Set alarms on your watch or phone to remind you of important things
Use a weekly pill reminder box for medication that is refilled at the same time every week
Repeat important information to yourself

For more information please see our Short-term Memory Loss and Cancer factsheet.

Call our Cancer Nurseline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm
Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Date Last Revised: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015