It is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Breast cancer development is often an emotionally traumatic experience that can negatively affect a women’s self-concept and sex life, and the chemotherapy used to treat it comes with a slew of side-effects that can substantially reduce the patient’s quality of life. Given the odds and consequences, it makes sense to proactively endeavor to avoid cancer of the breast and limiting your alcohol consumption, controlling your weight, exercising regularly and reducing your exposure to environmental toxins can all help you to do just that. A new study published in the April 1st issue of Cancer, has found an additional reason to reduce your risk factors for breast cancer development — one that pertains to preserving your cognitive function.
The Breast Cancer Study That Has People Talking
Although breast cancer is a horrible disease, it is considered one of the least fatal forms of cancer, especially when it is caught before the cancer development has progressed too far. Spurred by the fact that breast cancer survivors are living longer, researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center worked with colleagues at the University of South Florida and University of Kentucky, to investigate some of the long-term effects of conventional breast cancer therapies.
The study involved 313 women with early stage breast cancer who were being treated with either chemotherapy or radiation. In order to assess the patients cognitive function the researchers tested their ability to solve problems (executive function), their verbal abilities and how quickly they were able to complete tasks under pressure (processing speed). The patients were tested six months after treatment and then retested 36 months after completing treatment. To assure accurate results, the researchers also tested a control group of women who did not have breast cancer. The control group lived in the same zip code and were within five years of age, as the breast cancer patients. “We found that chemotherapy-treated patients performed worse than non-cancer controls in processing speed, executive functioning and verbal ability. These domains may be the domains most affected by chemotherapy,” says study lead author Paul Jacobsen, Ph.D..
The researchers conducted the same test on women who underwent radiotherapy, and found that the women experienced the same reduction in cognitive abilities as the chemotherapy group. In addition, the researchers found that the women in the control group experienced an improvement in cognitive function over time, while the women in the chemotherapy and radiotherapy group did not. According to Jacobsen, “Since patients report cognitive problems that interfere with their daily activities, early workups should include tests to determine cognitive functioning prior to treatment.”
The Effect on Long Term Cognitive Impairment
This is not the first study to link chemotherapy to long-term cognitive impairment; there are multiple others. In fact, it is such a common occurrence that it has been given its own term CICI (chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment) by medical practitioners, while patients often refer to it simply as chemobrain. With so much evidence pointing to serious cognitive after-effects of conventional breast cancer therapy, perhaps it is time to develop strategies to help prevent it. Possible strategies proposed by Clinical Breast Cancer Journal include: hormonal interventions, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, growth factors, dopamine agonists, cholinesterase inhibitors, anti-inflammatory agents and behavioral interventions.