January 3, 2017

Chemo-Brain Among Women With Breast Cancer Is Pervasive

ROCHESTER, NY -- January 3, 2017 -- Women with breast cancer report that chemo-brain is a substantial problem after chemotherapy, persisting for as long as 6 months after treatment, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

Scientists have known that cancer-related cognitive impairment, which includes problems with memory, attention, and processing information, is an important issue for patients. Yet limitations in previous studies have left several questions about when and why it occurs and who is most likely to develop the condition.

For the current study, Michelle C. Janelsins, PhD, University of Rochester's Wilmot Cancer Institute, Rochester, New York, and colleagues compared cognitive difficulties among 581 patients with breast cancer who were treated at clinical sites across the United States and 364 healthy people (mean age, 53 years in both groups). The researchers the FACT-Cog tool to measure cognitive impairment.

Their goal was to discover whether persistent symptoms existed and to possibly correlate them with other factors such as age, education, race, and menopausal status.

Compared with healthy people, the FACT-Cog scores of women with breast cancer exhibited 45% more impairment. In fact, over a period of nearly 1 year (from diagnosis and pre-chemotherapy to post-chemotherapy follow-up at 6 months) 36.5% of women reported a decline in scores compared with 13.6% of the healthy women.

Having more anxiety and depressive symptoms at the onset led to a greater impact on the FACT-Cog scores. Other factors that influenced cognitive decline were younger age and black race. Women who received hormone therapy and/or radiation treatment after chemotherapy had similar cognitive problems to women who received chemotherapy alone.

“Our study, from one of the largest nationwide studies to date, shows that cancer-related cognitive problems are a substantial and pervasive issue for many women with breast cancer,” said Dr. Janelsins.

“We are currently assessing these data in the context of objective cognitive measures and to understand the role of possible biologic mechanisms that may confer risk to cognitive problems in patients,” she said.

SOURCE: University of Rochester Medical Center

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