The role of metamemory on cognitive complaints in cancer patients

Brain Behav. 2020 Apr;10(4):e01545. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1545. Epub 2020 Mar 10.


Objective: Although cancer patients frequently report cognitive disturbances, it is commonly asserted a lack of association between cognitive complaints and neuropsychological test performances. Our goal was to better understand the relationships between subjective and objective cognitive scores through a metamemory monitoring assessment.

Methods: Sixty cancer patients currently treated by chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy, and 30 healthy controls (HC) were included. Cognitive complaint was assessed by FACT-cog, QAM and DEX questionnaires. One or more z-scores ≤-1.65 among these three questionnaires defined the presence of cognitive complaints. Objective cognitive performances assessed episodic memory, processing speed and executive functions/working memory (ESR paradigm, TMT, Stroop, n-back). Metamemory was assessed with a Judgment of Learning (JOL) task.

Results: Patients with cognitive complaints had significantly more depressive and anxiety symptoms (ps < .004), and lower performances on several cognitive tests (ps < .05) than both patients without complaints and HC. More specifically, analyses of the metamemory scores revealed that HC gave significantly more overestimations ("Yes" judgment and incorrect recall) than patients with cognitive complaints (p = .036). For these patients, JOL scores correlated positively with executive functioning (ps < .01).

Conclusion: Metamemory monitoring seems to be well-preserved during cancer. What is more, patients make less overestimation than HC, and they do not underestimate their memory. An accurate self-estimation of memory abilities in cancer patients, particularly those with mild cognitive deficits, may play an adaptive function. Our results suggest that the discrepancy frequently reported between cognitive complaints and objective cognitive scores may not be related to metamemory monitoring dysfunction.

Keywords: cancer patients; cognition; memory; metacognition; metacognitive monitoring; metamemory; neuropsychology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / complications*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Metacognition / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires