Chemotherapy shown to affect memory in young cancer patients

July 8, 2014 by Alison Barbuti, University of Manchester
Shown is a close-up of an intravenous (IV) bottle. Credit: Linda Bartlett/public domain

(Medical Xpress)—A significant number of young cancer patients suffer memory related side effects from chemotherapy according to a study by The University of Manchester to be announced at Teenage Cancer Trust's International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer, Royal Society of Medicine.

The study is particularly significant for young patients returning to education or work after treatment, and goes some way to proving the perceived experience of "chemo-brain" or poor concentration and memory reported by many patients.

Preliminary results show that display decreases in performance on a range of , which persist at least up to five years post-treatment. More than half perform in the bottom 10% of the population for spatial abilities and a quarter performed in the bottom 10% for long-term verbal memory.

Undertaken by Oana Lindner, final year PhD student in School of Psychological Sciences at The University of Manchester - part of Manchester cancer research Centre - the study is the first of its kind to investigate the idea that chemotherapy impacts the brain of the 16 to 50 year old patients. Looking specifically at memory and attention performance, it is also the first in the UK to investigate several cancer groups – breast cancer, lymphoma, sarcoma and germ cell tumour.

Lily Anderson, 17, from Newmarket in Suffolk, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 14 and was treated on a Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. Lily underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant and is now in remission.

Lily said: "I finished treatment a few months after my 16th birthday and tried to go back to Sixth Form. I definitely noticed a difference. It felt like my brain had become exhausted and more difficult to use. My head was always fuzzy, and my memory and concentration were awful. I couldn't focus on anything for more than half an hour and trying to learn new things was very difficult. It made it almost impossible for me to continue with my school work.

"When I was younger, pre cancer, I was an A/A* student, and picked up things very easily. I breezed through SATS and loved challenging myself. It was difficult going from having such a bright, alive mind to having one that's sluggish and disconnected."

Oana said: "This means that many 16 to 50 year old cancer patients may have difficulties in learning and memory. It certainly seems to support the phenomenon of Chemo-brain that so many experience. We are now working on additional analyses to account for other factors, such as depression or tiredness. Apart from studying the underlying mechanisms of these impairments, future analyses will also be aimed at finding out how long lasting these effects are."

Nigel Revell, Director of Education and Advocacy at Teenage Cancer Trust, said: "These findings confirm what we have long suspected that chemotherapy can impact young people who have gone through the treatment process and have returned back to their studies but are finding it harder to adapt, due to memory loss and lack of concentration span.

"Given the increasing number of people living with and beyond cancer, this is particularly pertinent. As Teenage Cancer Trust works with young people with cancer this is of particular interest for us as most of them are still in education and want to continue down this path once their is over."

Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to improving the quality of life and chances of survival for with cancer, aged 13 to 24. Over the last 24 years, they have developed and funded 27 specialist units across 18 cities in the UK, all in principle treatment centres for .

The full findings will be announced at the charity's conference, which is the world's most significant conference focusing on teenage and young adult cancers. The International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer runs from 7-8 July at the Royal Society of Medicine, London.

Explore further: Concern at lack of teenage patients in cancer trials

Related Stories

Concern at lack of teenage patients in cancer trials

June 30, 2014
Age limits on clinical trials need to be more flexible to allow more teenage cancer patients the chance to access new treatments, according to a report from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI), published in the ...

Memory problems after chemo linked to brain changes

May 29, 2014
(HealthDay News)—Breast cancer survivors who had chemotherapy show changes in brain activity during multitasking chores, according to a new Belgian study.

Teenage and young adult cancer deaths almost halved in last 30 years but success masks lack of access to clinical trials

March 25, 2013
The number of teenagers and young adults dying from cancer in Britain has fallen from around 580 per year in the mid-70s (1975-77) to around 300 today (2008-2010), according to a new Cancer Research UK report.

Re-thinking cancer treatment

November 18, 2013
A new treatment approach for tackling cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus) has been developed by researchers at Cardiff and Velindre NHS Trust.

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 ...

Scientists find way to target cells resistant to chemo

April 24, 2014
Scientists from The University of Manchester have identified a way to sensitise cancer cells to chemotherapy - making them more open to treatment.

Recommended for you

New approach attacks 'undruggable' cancers from the outside in

January 23, 2018
Cancer researchers have made great strides in developing targeted therapies that treat the specific genetic mutations underlying a patient's cancer. However, many of the most common cancer-causing genes are so central to ...

Scientists block the siren call of two aggressive cancers

January 23, 2018
Aggressive cancers like glioblastoma and metastatic breast cancer have in common a siren call that beckons the bone marrow to send along whatever the tumors need to survive and thrive.

'Hijacker' drives cancer in some patients with high-risk neuroblastoma

January 23, 2018
Researchers have identified mechanisms that drive about 10 percent of high-risk neuroblastoma cases and have used a new approach to show how the cancer genome "hijacks" DNA that regulates other genes. The resulting insights ...

Enzyme inhibitor combined with chemotherapy delays glioblastoma growth

January 23, 2018
In animal experiments, a human-derived glioblastoma significantly regressed when treated with the combination of an experimental enzyme inhibitor and the standard glioblastoma chemotherapy drug, temozolomide.

Study: Cells of three advanced cancers die with drug-like compounds that reverse chemo failure

January 23, 2018
Researchers at Southern Methodist University have discovered three drug-like compounds that successfully reverse chemotherapy failure in three of the most commonly aggressive cancers—ovarian, prostate and breast.

Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant

January 23, 2018
A study headed by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has identified the genes involved in the latent asymptomatic state of breast cancer metastases. The work sheds light ...


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.