Chemotherapy-Induced Structural Brain Changes Linked to Cognitive Function

February 2012, Vol 3, No 1 - In the Literature


Findings from a longitudinal study of impaired cognitive functioning and cerebral white matter integrity in women who receive chemotherapy for breast cancer suggest that chemotherapy-induced structural changes in the brain are correlated with impaired cognitive functioning (Deprez S, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2012;30:274-281).

In a Dutch study involving 69 premenopausal women, 34 women with early-stage breast cancer who were exposed to chemotherapy were compared with 16 women with early-stage breast cancer who were not exposed to chemotherapy, and with 19 matched healthy controls.

Before treatment was started and at 3 to 4 months afterward, all participants underwent neuropsychological testing for attention, concentration, memory, executive functioning, cognitive/psychomotor-processing speed, and self-reported cognitive functioning.

Baseline testing revealed similar results between all 3 groups, but paired t-test analyses showed that the chemotherapy group scored significantly worse (P <.05) on attention, concentration, psychomotor speed, and memory tests at 3 to 4 months after treatment initiation. The 2 control groups, however, performed significantly better at the later points than at baseline in those domains, which is consistent with a learning effect.

The decline in the attention and verbal memory domains in the neuropsychological tests in the chemotherapy group correlated with the changes in fractional anisotropy.