Asian breast cancer survivors suffer cognitive impairments associated with chemotherapy

March 15, 2012, National University of Singapore

A recent study by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers revealed that Asian breast cancer patients who had received or were undergoing chemotherapy treatment showed symptoms of "chemobrain", in which they encounter memory loss, difficulty in decision making and speech problems.

This first-ever qualitative study conducted among Asians, led by Associate Professor Alexandre Chan and spearheaded by PhD candidate Ms Cheung Yin Ting, from the Department of Pharmacy at the NUS Faculty of Science, was conducted on 43 who had completed, or are receiving chemotherapy treatment.

The team, comprising researchers from the Department of Pharmacy at NUS and the National Cancer Centre Singapore, conducted the focus groups last August.

The findings revealed that patients are not aware of the potential cognitive disturbances that may result after . They attributed the lapse in their cognitive functions to fatigue, anxiety and mood changes. The patients who participated in the study expressed that they were overwhelmed by the physical side-effects of chemotherapy that they were oblivious to the .

Among the participants who are married, many had expressed frustration as cognitive deterioration had limited their roles as homemakers. Much of the negative impact on the family originated from their own expectations of themselves, as they were unable to fulfill their duties as mothers and wives in the family due to the cognitive deficits.

The findings are consistent with similar studies conducted on .

Coping with cognitive changes

Despite the awareness that their cognitive functions could potentially be affected, a majority of the participants are still receptive to chemotherapy and are amenable to coping strategies of their cognitive changes.

To cope with their cognitive changes and to prevent deterioration, the participants turned to mind stimulation activities such as mahjong and practised qi gong. Some participants also consume complementary alternative medicine such as walnut and ginkgo extracts to regulate their moods and to reduce the severity of their fatigue.

Commenting on the findings, Assoc Prof Chan said, "Our study showed that post-chemotherapy cognitive changes have significantly impacted the family and working lives of Asian cancer patients. As there is evidence that cognitive disturbances can differ among different Asian ethnic groups, well-designed epidemiological studies are needed to quantify the prevalence, severity and impact of this problem in Asia."

"A culturally relevant approach should be adopted to evaluate and manage cognitive changes in these patients," he added.

The findings of this study were published in the online version of Annals of Oncology on 6 March 2012.

To address the impact of "chemobrain" among survivors, Assoc Prof Chan and his team are currently conducting a prospective, large-scale, longitudinal study to evaluate the degree of cognitive changes experienced by local cancer patients.

Explore further: Breast cancer survivors struggle with cognitive problems several years after treatment

Related Stories

Breast cancer survivors struggle with cognitive problems several years after treatment

December 12, 2011
A new analysis has found that breast cancer survivors may experience problems with certain mental abilities several years after treatment, regardless of whether they were treated with chemotherapy plus radiation or radiation ...

Sleep issues contribute to cognitive problems in childhood cancer survivors

April 11, 2011
A new analysis has found that childhood cancer survivors often suffer from sleep problems and fatigue, which negatively impact their attention and memory. Published early online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American ...

Chemotherapy can impair speech

September 7, 2011
Patients who have received high doses of chemotherapy may find it harder to express themselves verbally, according to new research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Speech difficulties ...

Recommended for you

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

Dulling cancer therapy's double-edged sword

January 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered that killing cancer cells can actually have the unintended effect of fueling the proliferation of residual, living cancer cells, ultimately leading to aggressive tumor progression.

Presurgical targeted therapy delays relapse of high-risk stage 3 melanoma

January 17, 2018
A pair of targeted therapies given before and after surgery for melanoma produced at least a six-fold increase in time to progression compared to standard-of-care surgery for patients with stage 3 disease, researchers at ...

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.