Cognitive Changes

Many cancer survivors report cognitive changes — trouble with thinking, memory, and concentration — related to cancer and cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy. Sometimes referred to as “chemobrain” or “chemofog,” the phenomenon formally referred to as cancer-related cognitive impairment has been an important concern for clinical practitioners and investigators. Overall, research findings have demonstrated changes in several domains of cognition, including working memory, new learning, executive function, and spatial abilities. However, questions remain in the areas of how to measure these changes, how to interpret findings across research studies, and whether neuropsychological test results can be generalized to everyday tasks. Moreover, not all cancer patients and survivors experience cognitive late effects, and determining susceptibility and identifying neural pathways remain important areas of exploration. Also, there are limited validated interventions available for patients suffering from these symptoms, and further work is needed to provide practitioners and patients with advice about accommodation strategies and empirically sound therapies.

The BBPSB focus expands across the cancer control continuum, examining cognition from pre-treatment through end of life, including in long-term survivors. The branch is interested in the problem of cancer-related cognitive changes from the perspectives of cognitive, clinical, and neurodevelopmental psychology and of neuroscience.

Articles and Publications

Physical Activity May Lessen the Effects of Chemobrain, Study Finds. NCI Staff. Cancer Currents blog, National Cancer Institute, 2021.

Treviño M, Zhu X, Lu YY, Scheuer LS, Passell E, Huang GC, Germine LT, Horowitz TS. How do we measure attention? Using factor analysis to establish construct validity of neuropsychological testsCogn Res Princ Implic. 2021 Jul 22;6(1):51. doi: 10.1186/s41235-021-00313-1. 

Horowitz TS, Trevino M, Gooch IM, Duffy KA. Understanding the Profile of Cancer-Related Cognitive Impairments: A Critique of the Meta-AnalysesJ Natl Cancer Inst. 2019 May. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djz100.

Horowitz T. What You Need to Know About Cancer-Related Cognitive Impairment.

Horowitz T, Suls J, Trevino M. A call for a neuroscience approach to cancer-related cognitive impairmentTrends Neurosci. 2018 Aug;41(8):493-496. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2018.05.001. Epub 2018 Jun 12.

Understanding “Chemobrain” and Cognitive Impairment after Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute (2017).

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Last Updated
November 04, 2021