Breast cancer treatment and cognitive function: The current state of evidence, underlying mechanisms and potential treatments

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Within the last decade, several studies have investigated whether adjuvant treatment of breast cancer affects cognitive function. A number of prospective studies have demonstrated inconsistent results regarding whether chemotherapy affects cognitive function. Approximately half of the studies demonstrated subtle cognitive decline in a wide range of domains among some breast cancer patients following chemotherapy, and half did not. Concomitant changes in brain structure and function have been identified in neuroimaging and neurophysiologic studies. Estrogenic therapy has been specifically associated with deterioration in verbal memory and processing speed. However, evidence is mostly based on smaller studies with cross-sectional data. Breast cancer patients who underwent both chemotherapy and estrogenic therapy showed the most deterioration and the most persistant decline in cognitive function. Since cognitive impairment is subtle, if evident at all, discrepant findings are due to hormonal, physiological, psychological or temporal confounding variables and differences in study design. Neuropsychological training has been demonstrated to improve cognitive dysfunction experienced by breast cancer patients after chemotherapy. Future research may examine the unique impact of endocrine therapy on cognitive function with prospective, controlled trials, as well as the role of further confounding variables (e.g., menopausal status, cytokine deregulation, cortisol and concurrent medication). © 2009 Future Medicine Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • adjuvant therapy
  • antineoplastic agent
  • apolipoprotein E
  • aromatase inhibitor
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  • brain function
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  • breast cancer
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  • cognitive defect
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  • cyclophosphamide
  • epirubicin
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  • estrogen
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  • neuroimaging
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  • verbal memory
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  • Vodermaier A.

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