Women who undergo radiation therapy (RT) to treat childhood brain tumor are more likely to suffer long-term cognitive impairment compared to male survivors, reveals a new study. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
"Some of the survivors are doing quite well, going on to graduate degrees or medical school, " said Tricia King, professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study.
"Others are quite devastated by the treatments. So, there's a huge range in outcomes, and we are trying to look at the various factors involved that may explain these differences."
Tanya Panwala, a lead author of the study, said the researchers focused on sex differences.
"That was something that was very understudied in the research," said Panwala, who recently graduated from Georgia State after working as an undergraduate researcher in King's lab.
The team recruited 45 adult survivors of posterior fossa childhood brain tumors and had them complete a series of standardized tests to measure intelligence, attention, working memory, and independent-living skills. Posterior fossa tumors, which are in or near the bottom of the skull, are the most common form of brain tumors in children, accounting for as much as 55 percent overall.
The tests showed female survivors were more affected by radiation therapy than their male counterparts in basic life skills such as reading, memory, social interactions, self-care and cognitive processing speed.
"We found that females were more negatively affected by the life-saving radiation treatments than males," King said. "This showed up in their activities of daily living in the community. So, the more challenging, higher-order skills that people need to be contributing members of society is disrupted and more so for females that had radiation than the male survivors."
The research points to the need for future studies to investigate the mechanisms for these sex differences in order to personalize treatment plans best, King said.
"Because there are sex-specific differences in survivors, these get washed out when you just look at the group of tumor survivors as a whole," King said.
"To advance science, we areally need to look at these groups separately. There are lots of hypotheses of why that maybe, but we need to look at the biological factors that are making females more vulnerable to life-saving radiation treatment."