Cognitive Impairment in a Subset of Breast Cancer Patients After Systemic Therapy: Results From a Longitudinal Study

S. Menning, M.B. de Ruiter, J.M. Kieffer, J. Agelink van Rentergem, D.J. Veltman, A. Fruijtier, H.S.A. Oldenburg, E. Boven, S. van der Meij, V. Lustig, M.E.M. Bos, W. Boogerd, L. Reneman, S.B. Schagen

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Studies indicate adverse effects of breast cancer (BC) and cancer treatment on cognitive function.

To investigate the effects of systemic treatment on cognitive performance in BC patients.

Participants were BC patients scheduled to receive systemic treatment (BC + SYST; n = 31), or no systemic treatment (BC; n = 24) and no-cancer (NC) controls (n = 33). Neuropsychological examinations were used to study cognitive performance on 18 tests grouped into eight cognitive domains, before adjuvant treatment (T1) and six months after chemotherapy (T2), or at similar intervals. We also assessed health-related quality of life, anxiety and depression, mood, stress, and cognitive problems. Analysis of variance was used to assess group differences of cognitive performance and multivariate normative comparison to classify impairment, comparing scores of each participant against the distribution of the scores of NC controls.

Of BC + SYST, 16% were cognitively impaired at T2, compared to 4% in BC and 6% in NC. Although not significant, we observed moderate effect sizes for worse performance in the BC + SYST group compared to NC (Flanker congruent [effect size {ES} = 0.44] and stimulus incongruent [ES = 0.44]) and compared to BC (Controlled Oral Word Association Test [ES = 0.47], digit span [ES = 0.41], and Hopkins Verbal Learning Test immediate [ES = 0.71] and delayed recall [ES = 0.65]). Cognitively impaired patients had a significantly lower estimated premorbid intelligence, worse physical and social functioning, and more distress at T2 compared to unimpaired patients.

Our findings indicate that cognitive impairment after systemic treatment occurs in a subset of BC patients. The predictive value of demographic and psychosocial factors in cognitive impairment should be further investigated in a larger sample of impaired patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-569
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number4
Early online date17 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Breast cancer
  • adverse effects
  • chemotherapy
  • cognitive impairment
  • longitudinal study

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