Background: Previous studies have indicated that a subset of cancer patients treated with chemotherapy show cognitive deficits and/or experience cognitive complaints, whereas literature about the influence of hormonal therapies on cognition is sparse. Because of the accumulating knowledge about the importance of estrogen for cognitive functioning, there is growing concern about adjuvant hormonal therapy for breast cancer (BC) affecting cognition. We examined the cognitive functioning of postmenopausal BC patients who were, following doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide (AC) chemotherapy, randomized to tamoxifen or exemestane, and compared their performance with that of non-cancer controls.
Materials and methods: Thirty BC patients using tamoxifen and 50 patients using exemestane underwent interviews, questionnaires and cognitive tests, on average two years after completion of AC chemotherapy. Forty eight healthy controls were tested with similar measures.
Results: Memory complaints were reported by 28% of AC/tamoxifen users, 24% of AC/exemestane users and 6% of healthy controls (p=0.02). Cognitive testing revealed no statistically significant differences between tamoxifen and exemestane users, but suggested that tamoxifen use is possibly related to worse verbal functioning, while exemestane use is possibly related to slower manual motor speed. Both patient groups performed significantly worse than healthy controls on verbal fluency and information processing speed.
Discussion: Our findings show that sequential treatment of AC-chemotherapy and hormonal therapy in postmenopausal, primary BC is associated with lower test scores for certain cognitive functions, and provide indications for possibly distinctive associations for different types of hormonal treatment. Future research with larger groups is recommended to obtain a more definite picture.