Long-term cognitive effects of breast cancer chemotherapy

April, 2012

A study has found greater cognitive decline in older women who were given chemotherapy for breast cancer 20 years ago.

Women who received a once-standard type of chemotherapy regimen for breast cancer between 1976 and 1995 have been found to score worse on cognitive tests than women who never had cancer. Specifically, they tended to have lower scores on tests of immediate and delayed verbal memory, executive function, information processing speed, and psychomotor speed. The difference was comparable to some six years of age-related decline.

CMF chemotherapy was the standard of care for breast cancer worldwide from the 1970s through the 1990s. Some of the chemicals (shown to be associated with impaired learning and memory in animal studies) are still commonly incorporated in modern chemotherapeutic regimens for breast cancer.

The study compared the performance of 196 women who had received CMF chemotherapy to that of 1,509 women enrolled in the Rotterdam Study. All participants were aged 50-80 at the beginning of the study. Factors such as age, education, and depression score were taken into account in the analysis.

For more about the effects of chemotherapy on cognition

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