Preliminary reports about this new research study were all over the Internet last week. I think MedPage Today does a great job interpreting the study results:
All Cancer Therapies May Impair Memory
By Ed Susman, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today
Published: October 02, 2010
Reviewed by Adam J. Carinci, MD; Instructor, Harvard Medical School and
Dorothy Caputo, MA, RN, BC-ADM, CDE, Nurse Planner Earn CME/CE credit
for reading medical news
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Cognitive impairments associated with breast cancer treatment are not limited only to “chemobrain,” but may occur with radiation or hormonal therapies as well, a researcher said here.
About 14% of individuals who had undergone therapy for a variety of cancer diagnoses complained of post-therapy memory loss compared with 8% of individuals who had not received cancer treatments (P<0.001), according to Pascal Jean-Pierre, PhD, MPH, of the University of Miami.
“Chemobrain is sort of a misnomer, because we observed this memory-loss phenomenon among people who have undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormonal therapy for treatment of various types of cancer,” Jean-Pierre told MedPage Today during a poster session here at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities.
Jean-Pierre reported on analyses of information collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using data on 9,819 individuals, about equally divided between men and women. The multiracial group included 1,305 people who had been treated for cancer, he said, with the rest serving as controls.
He said earlier, smaller studies of patients with certain cancers including those of the breast and prostate had also shown similar memory impairments. “The findings show that memory impairment in cancer patients is a national problem that we must pay special attention to,” Jean-Pierre said.
He added that while there is no curative treatment yet for memory impairment — ongoing studies are testing therapies — physicians can still help these patients.
“One of the most important parts of cancer treatment is management of symptoms, such as impairments in attention, memory and fatigue, in order to improve a patient’s quality of life. This study suggests these memory issues are more common than had been recognized before, and should be assessed in all patients with a history of cancer,” Jean-Pierre said.
All NHANES participants had a physical exam and completed a survey that included the question, “Are you limited in any way because of difficulty remembering or because you experience periods of confusion?”
These were correlated with participants whose data indicated previous treatment for cancer.
Multivariate analysis indicated that a history of cancer treatment increased the risk of memory impairment with an odds ratio of 1.5 (95% CI 1.1 to 1.9).
Other factors associated with memory impairment included age, sex, race and ethnicity, education level, poverty and general health status (P<0.01).
“The findings indicate that cancer is, therefore, a key independent predictor of memory problems in the sample studied,” said Jean-Pierre. This cancer-related cognitive dysfunction suggests that “these memory issues can be related to treatment or to the tumor biology itself, which could change brain chemistry and neurobehavioral function,” he added.
“The best analogy for this is bypass surgery where we found it was true that these procedures were related to memory loss in some individuals,” said Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, chief of general medicine at the University of Miami, who was not involved with the research.
“We are giving people a lot of very toxic drugs,” Carrasquillo told MedPage Today, “so it is not surprising that some people could develop some neurological problems.” He said the object in cancer therapy is to save lives, but in doing so some people my suffer deficits. “We have to determine how to weight that,” he said.
This is a big deal! My commentary tomorrow.
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat