Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Breast Cancer Survivors Given Chemo May Suffer Mild Cognitive Impairment
Large study finds evidence of ‘Chemo Brain’ – patients do significantly worse on tests of verbal and visuospatial ability
than patients not getting chemo
Sept. 4, 2012 – Breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy are at risk of mild cognitive impairment after treatment
– a condition referred to as “Chemo Brain,” according to researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center. The review of previously published studies,
found that study participants on average had mild impairments in verbal abilities (such as difficulty choosing words) and visuospatial
abilities (such as getting lost more easily).
The study noted that cognitive functioning varies across survivors, with some reporting no impairments and others
reporting more severe or pervasive deficits. Moffitt is one of the National Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Cancer Centers.
“The objective of our analysis was to clarify existing research on cognitive functioning in patients who had received
standard dose chemotherapy for breast cancer at least six months previously,” said study lead author
Heather S.L. Jim, Ph.D., an assistant member at Moffitt, whose research focuses on the
psychosocial and behavioral aspects of cancer survivorship.
“Earlier studies,” she added, “had reported conflicting evidence on the severity of cognitive deficits, especially over
the long term.”
Although this is an active area of research, an overall analysis of the studies had not been performed since 2006,
explained the researchers.
“Our analysis indicated that patients previously treated with chemotherapy performed significantly worse on tests of
verbal ability than individuals without cancer,” noted co-author
Paul B. Jacobsen, Moffitt senior member and associate center director of Population Sciences.
“In addition,” he said, “patients treated with chemotherapy performed significantly worse on tests of visuospatial
ability than patients who had not had chemotherapy.”
“Breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, who have subsequent cognitive deficits, should be referred to a
neuropsychologist for evaluation and management of the deficits,” Jim said.
“Management usually involves developing an awareness of the situations in which their cognitive difficulties are likely
to arise so that they can come up with strategies to compensate. Research shows that such strategies can make a big difference in daily life
when cognitive difficulties do arise.”
The study was published in the
Journal of Clinical Oncology. The research was supported in part by the
National Cancer Institute, part of the
National Institutes of Health, through grant number K07 CA138499.
Moffitt Cancer Center
Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 41
National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that
recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Since 1999, Moffitt has been
U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. With more than 4,200
employees, Moffitt has an economic impact on the state of nearly $2 billion. For more information, visit
MOFFITT.org, and follow the Moffitt momentum on
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