Cognitive functioning after cancer treatment

A 3-year longitudinal comparison of breast cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy or radiation and noncancer controls




This study examined the influence of prior treatment on the course of cognitive functioning in breast cancer survivors. Changes in cognitive functioning over time were compared in breast cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy plus radiotherapy, breast cancer survivors treated with radiotherapy only, and women with no history of cancer.


Stage 0-II breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy plus radiotherapy (CT group; n = 62) or radiotherapy only (RT group; n = 67) completed neuropsychological assessments 6 months after completing treatment and again 36 months later. Women with no history of cancer (NC group; n = 184) were assessed over a similar interval.


A significant group × time effect was found for processing speed (P = .009) that reflected a tendency for the NC group but not the RT and CT groups to improve over time. There was also a significant group effect for executive functioning (P = .006) that reflected the NC group performing better than the CT and RT groups. Additional analyses found the administration of hormonal therapy was not associated with change over time in cognitive performance.


Findings provide limited support for the view that changes in cognitive functioning in cancer survivors are attributable to chemotherapy administration and illustrate the importance of including a radiotherapy comparison group. Future research should seek to examine possible mechanisms that could explain the apparent prolonged impact of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy on cognitive functioning in breast cancer survivors. Cancer 2012;. © 2011 American Cancer Society.