Previous studies have shown decreases in cognitive functioning among cancer survivors following chemotherapy treatment. Now, a new study has revealed how these cognitive declines might affect daily tasks or quality of life when the treatment stops.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, has revealed that, following chemotherapy, mild decreases in skills, such as verbal fluency and problem-solving ability, affect the quality of life for cancer survivors.
"These aren't huge deficits in cognitive functioning, but now that we are aware of these lingering effects, we can do something to help these patients," said Stephanie Reid-Arndt, an assistant professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions.
"After treatment, it isn't that you are severely impaired, but you might experience some mild weaknesses. Our next step is to examine some specific interventions and see which ones might help with these difficulties," she added.
During the study, Reid-Arndt, and her colleague, Michael Perry, a professor in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology in the MU School of Medicine, studied women who had been treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer.
The researchers tested the women three times during the year following their chemotherapy treatments.
The scientists evaluated neuropsychological functioning, self-reported cognitive difficulties, fatigue, the amount of social support they sought, depression, and the quality of life experienced by the breast cancer survivors.
While some of the findings affirmed older research, such as how fatigue and a lack of social support are important predictors for poor quality of life, Reid-Arndt identified two measures of daily cognitive functioning that seemed to affect quality of life.
Verbal fluency, such as the ability to recall certain words when necessary, and self-reports of problems with memory concentration were indicators of poor daily functioning and poor quality of life among patients.
"It was a small, but significant percentage of breast cancer survivors that were reporting these problems in the study. The daily difficulties related to these problems tend to be mild, but these findings tell us that these women are experiencing cognitive problems that may be a source of stress," Reid-Arndt said.