Brain vulnerability to chemotherapy toxicities

Psychooncology. 2012 Nov;21(11):1141-8. doi: 10.1002/pon.3196. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


Chemotherapy-induced cognitive changes have been an increasing concern among cancer survivors. By using adjuvant treatment for breast cancer as the prototype, this manuscript reviews research from neuropsychological, imaging, genetic, and animal model studies that have examined the clinical presentation and potential mechanisms for cognitive changes associated with exposure to chemotherapy. An impressive body of research supports the hypothesis that a subgroup of patients is vulnerable to post-treatment cognitive changes, although not exclusively related to chemotherapy. Further, imaging and animal model studies provide accumulating evidence of putative mechanisms for chemotherapy-induced cognitive change. Models of aging are also reviewed in support of the proposal that cognitive changes associated with cancer and cancer treatments can be viewed in the context of factors that affect the trajectory of normal aging.

Keywords: brain vulnerability; cancer; chemotherapy; cognition; oncology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Survivors / psychology


  • Antineoplastic Agents