Ana Sierra's fight with cancer goes back more than eight years. She was cancer-free most that time, but then round two began.
“And then, what happened?” she said. “It came back in November of 2010.”
Breast cancer spread to her lung and her brain. Ana underwent brain surgery a few weeks ago, and now only time will tell whether the cancer comes back.
If it does, Ana has another option called whole brain radiation. However, that treatment has a downside.
”It’s known to have a negative effect on neurocognitive function,” radiation oncologist Dr. Paiman Ghafoori said.
Loss of neurocognitive function can cause memory loss, kind of like dementia, but a new study shows the Alzheimer's drug Memantine helps keep memory intact during radiation treatment.
“So overall, there was a 17 percent reduction in cognitive dysfunction in patients who received Memantine as compared to a placebo,” Dr. Ghafoori said.
The study showed even after the patient stopped taking the drug, their brain function basically stayed the same with no more memory loss.
“This has the potential to be a practice-changing study and a finding, because we know this medicine works in a similar capacity in other forms of dementia or cognitive dysfunction,” Ghafoori said.
For Ana, it’s a game of wait and see. Her fight with cancer isn't over yet, but it is made easier.
“If that [drug] is an option for me to have a better quality of life, I definitely will go for it,” she said.
The drug Memantine is FDA-approved. Doctors say it’s already available for use on certain cancer patients.