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UT Tyler PhD candidate conducting colorectal cancer study

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TYLER (KYTX) - One UT Tyler PhD candidate is trying to fill a gap in medical literature through her dissertation. She's researching whether there's a connection between chemotherapy and brain function in cancer survivors, specifically colorectal cancer survivors.

"I was really interested in cognitive deficits and my mother-in-law, who's now in her 90s, had colorectal cancer. She had surgery. She also had a round of chemotherapy. And, after that, we've seen cognition decline significantly."

PhD candidate Lynn Summers says her mother-in-law's memory has never been the same since chemo.

"It continues to decline, which it could be some dementia going on at her age, but it seemed like the trigger was the chemotherapy." she says. 

Summers's dissertation chair, Barbara Haas, says the nickname for this in the medical community is "chemo brain."

"The patients complain about it," says Haas. "But, there hasn't been a lot of research to establish whether it's an actual event or not. Most of the work that has been studied has been in breast cancer. Very little has been studied in colorectal cancer."

That's what Summers is trying to change.

She says she wishes her mother-in-law would have gotten more information on cancer treatment side effects.

"I'm hoping that it'll increase awareness, particularly that it'll bring forward the idea that this is definitely something we need to talk to our patients about. We need to be checking it all along."

"Because, certainly they want to know about possible side effects and then they don't feel like they're just losing it or, you know, that this is an expected side effect." says Haas.

This is just the beginning of Summers's research.

She says her findings could reveal a need for screenings in chemo patients to see if they are experiencing any problems, mentally.

Summers needs 100 cancer survivors to participate in her study. So far, she's only gotten one! Testing takes no more than an hour and a half.

For more information, call Summers, 903.780.5077 or email lynn.summers.study@gmail.com.

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