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National Cancer Institute

Post Treatment Health: The Landscape

Presentation 4: Does Chemotherapy Influence Cognitive Functioning?

Tim A. Ahles, Ph.D.
Program Director, Center for Psycho-Oncology Research
Dartmouth Medical School
Lebanon, NH

  • Chemotherapy can cause cognitive deficits in cancer survivors, such as problems with memory and concentration, word-finding, multitasking, reading comprehension, and the ability to learn new material and work with numbers.
  • Some cancer patients are more affected by chemotherapy than others; identification of risk factors may help determine who is more vulnerable.
  • Predictors of increased risk for cancer treatment-induced cognitive deficits besides chemotherapy include lower education and IQ levels, history of traumatic brain injury, history of learning disabilities, genetic variables, and hormonal factors.
  • Genes that influence cell repair and plasticity, neurotransmitter function, or encode blood-brain transporters may affect sensitivity to chemotherapy.
  • A pilot study of magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of the brain showed structural changes in patients receiving chemotherapy. Studies such as these may help explain mechanisms leading to development of cognitive problems suffered by some cancer patients.

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