Catechol-O-methyltransferase genotype modulates cancer treatment-related cognitive deficits in breast cancer survivors


  • The impact of cancer treatment on cognitive performance is an important quality-of-life outcome for cancer survivors. In this study, the authors demonstrated that breast cancer survivors who were treated with chemotherapy were at the greatest risk of cognitive impairment if they carried the catechol-O-methyltransferase Val gene.



Recent attention has focused on the negative effects of chemotherapy on the cognitive performance of cancer survivors. The current study examined modification of this risk by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) genotype based on evidence in adult populations that the presence of a Val allele is associated with poorer cognitive performance.


Breast cancer survivors treated with radiotherapy (n = 58), and/or chemotherapy (n = 72), and 204 healthy controls (HCs) completed tests of cognitive performance and provided saliva for COMT genotyping. COMT genotype was divided into Val carriers (Val+; Val/Val, Val/Met) or COMT-Met homozygote carriers (Met; Met/Met).


COMT-Val+ carriers performed more poorly on tests of attention, verbal fluency, and motor speed relative to COMT-Met homozygotes. Moreover, COMT-Val+ carriers treated with chemotherapy performed more poorly on tests of attention relative to HC group members who were also Val+ carriers.


The results suggest that persons treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer who also possess the COMT-Val gene are susceptible to negative effects on their cognitive health. This research is important because it strives to understand the factors that predispose some cancer survivors to more negative quality-of-life outcomes. Cancer 2011. © 2010 American Cancer Society.