Cognitive loss after conventional chemotherapy persists

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:  none of the patients who have come to our clinic for Corrective Cancer Care report being told by their doctors that chemotherapy related cognitive problems “chemo brain” could persist for up to 2o years…

“This study suggests that cognitive deficits following breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent CMF chemotherapy can be long lasting.”


Neuropsychological Performance in Survivors of Breast Cancer More Than 20 Years After Adjuvant Chemotherapy

J Clin Oncol 30:1080-1086, 2012

  1. Vincent Koppelmans   et al

Purpose Adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer can have adverse effects on cognition shortly after administration. Whether chemotherapy has any long-term effects on cognition is largely unknown, yet it becomes increasingly relevant because of the widespread use of chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer and the improved survival. We investigated whether cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil (CMF) chemotherapy for breast cancer is associated with worse cognitive performance more than 20 years after treatment.

Patients and Methods This case-cohort study compared the cognitive performance of patients with breast cancer who had a history of adjuvant CMF chemotherapy treatment (six cycles; average time since treatment, 21 years; n = 196) to that of a population-based sample of women never diagnosed with cancer (n = 1,509). Participants were between 50 and 80 years of age. Exclusion criteria were ever use of adjuvant endocrine therapy, secondary malignancy, recurrence, and/or metastasis.

Results The women exposed to chemotherapy performed significantly worse than the reference group on cognitive tests of immediate (P = .015) and delayed verbal memory (P = .002), processing speed (P < .001), executive functioning (P = .013), and psychomotor speed (P = .001). They experienced fewer symptoms of depression (P < .001), yet had significantly more memory complaints on two of three measures that could not be explained by cognitive test performance.

Conclusion Survivors of breast cancer treated with adjuvant CMF chemotherapy more than 20 years ago perform worse, on average, than random population controls on neuropsychological tests. The pattern of cognitive problems is largely similar to that observed in patients shortly after cessation of chemotherapy. This study suggests that cognitive deficits following breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent CMF chemotherapy can be long lasting.

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