The cognitive sequelae of standard-dose adjuvant chemotherapy in women with breast carcinoma: results of a prospective, randomized, longitudinal trial

Cancer. 2004 Jun 1;100(11):2292-9. doi: 10.1002/cncr.20272.


Background: Retrospective trials have reported that chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction was experienced by a subset of patients with breast carcinoma. However, recent evidence indicated that a subset also exhibited impaired cognitive function at baseline, before the start of chemotherapy. A prospective, longitudinal trial that incorporates baseline neuropsychologic evaluations is necessary to determine to what extent cognitive dysfunction is attributable to chemotherapy in this population.

Methods: Eighteen women with breast carcinoma underwent a comprehensive neuropsychologic evaluation before treatment and at short-term and long-term intervals after chemotherapy. The incidence, nature, severity, and chronicity of cognitive dysfunction developing in patients with breast carcinoma treated with a standard dose of adjuvant chemotherapy were assessed.

Results: Before the start of systemic therapy, 33% of women in the current cohort exhibited cognitive impairment. At the short-term postchemotherapy time point, 61% of the cohort exhibited a decline relative to baseline in 1 or more domains of cognitive functioning and reported greater difficulty in maintaining their ability to work. The most common domains of cognitive dysfunction were related to attention, learning, and processing speed. At the long-term postchemotherapy time point, approximately 50% of patients who experienced declines in cognitive function demonstrated improvement, whereas 50% remained stable. Self-reported ability to perform work-related activities also improved over this interval. Neither impairment at baseline nor subsequent treatment-related cognitive decline exhibited any statistically significant correlation with affective well-being or with demographic or clinical characteristics.

Conclusions: The current study is the first longitudinal trial to report evidence of an association between cognitive dysfunction and chemotherapy in a subgroup of women with nonmetastatic breast carcinoma. The importance of using prospective research designs, appropriate cognitive measures, and statistical methods to evaluate subgroup effects was discussed. Identification of mechanisms associated with cognitive dysfunction and of risk factors contributing to subgroup vulnerability is necessary.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mastectomy
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life