A Systematic Review of the Safety and Effect of Neurofeedback on Fatigue and Cognition

Integr Cancer Ther. 2015 Jul;14(4):318-40. doi: 10.1177/1534735415572886. Epub 2015 Feb 25.


Background: Many cancer survivors continue to experience ongoing symptoms, such as fatigue and cognitive impairment, which are poorly managed and have few effective, evidence-based treatment options. Neurofeedback is a noninvasive, drug-free form of brain training that may alleviate long-term symptoms reported by cancer patients.

Objective: The purpose of this systematic review of the literature was to describe the effectiveness and safety of neurofeedback for managing fatigue and cognitive impairment.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was conducted using Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) methodology. A comprehensive search of 5 databases was conducted: Medline, CINAHL, AMED, PsycInfo, and Embase. Randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials, controlled before and after studies, cohort, case control studies, and descriptive studies were included in this review.

Results: Twenty-seven relevant studies were included in the critical appraisals. The quality of most studies was poor to moderate based on the JBI critical appraisal checklists. Seventeen studies were deemed of sufficient quality to be included in the review: 10 experimental studies and 7 descriptive studies. Of these, only 2 were rated as high-quality studies and the remaining were rated as moderate quality. All 17 included studies reported positive results for at least one fatigue or cognitive outcome in a variety of populations, including 1 study with breast cancer survivors. Neurofeedback interventions were well tolerated with only 3 studies reporting any side effects.

Conclusions: Despite issues with methodological quality, the overall positive findings and few reported side effects suggest neurofeedback could be helpful in alleviating fatigue and cognitive impairment. Currently, there is insufficient evidence that neurofeedback is an effective therapy for management of these symptoms in cancer survivors, however, these promising results support the need for further research with this patient population. More information about which neurofeedback technologies, approaches, and protocols could be successfully used with cancer survivors and with minimal side effects is needed. This research will have significance to nurses and physicians in oncology and primary care settings who provide follow-up care and counseling to cancer survivors experiencing debilitating symptoms in order to provide information and education related to evidence-based therapy options.

Keywords: cancer; cognitive impairment; fatigue; neurofeedback; safety.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / rehabilitation*
  • Neurofeedback / methods*
  • Survivors
  • Treatment Outcome