Until recently, it was considered that only women and men who had chemo as part of their treatment for breast cancer might have cognitive issues as survivors. A new study challenges that theory, pointing to survivors who did not have chemo also experiencing cognitive problems after treatment.
An article in Science News, published in December 2011, reports a study found that breast cancer survivors may experience problems with certain cognitive abilities several years after treatment. This may occur whether they were treated with chemotherapy plus radiation or radiation only.
I found the article of particular interest as I did not have chemo, but during and after radiation I had a difficult time with recent memory retention. So much so, that I had to carry pen and paper with me and write down what I needed to remember an hour or days later. When I referred to my notes, I often had no recollection of what I had written or why it was important to me. Frightening, to say the least. In speaking with my radiation oncologist, he kindly, but firmly dismissed it as “nerves” and not from radiation treatment.
To compare the effects of different types of cancer treatment on such cognitive abilities, Paul Jacobsen, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, and his colleagues examined 62 breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy plus radiation, 67 patients treated with radiation only, and 184 women with no history of cancer. Study participants completed neuropsychological assessments six months after completing treatment and again 36 months later, which is further out from the end of treatment than most previous studies of this type.
The investigators found that breast cancer survivors treated with radiation (and not chemotherapy) often experienced cognitive problems similar to those in breast cancer survivors treated with both chemotherapy and radiation. They did not find that hormonal therapy (such as tamoxifen) caused cognitive difficulties.
“These findings suggest that the problems some breast cancer survivors have with their cognitive abilities are not due just to the administration of chemotherapy,” said Dr. Jacobsen. “Our findings also provide a more complete picture of the impact of cancer treatment on mental abilities than studies that did not follow patients as long or look at cognitive abilities in breast cancer survivors who had not been treated with chemotherapy,” he added.