Older Chemotherapy Regimen for Breast Cancer Linked with Persistent “Chemo Brain”

Women who received CMF chemotherapy for breast cancer between 1976 and 1995 scored slightly lower than women with no history of cancer on tests of word learning, memory, and information processing. These results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Studies of “chemo brain”—the foggy thinking and forgetfulness that patients may experience after chemotherapy—have suggested that the condition often improves with time. Some patients, however, may experience persistent problems.

CMF is a chemotherapy regimen that was once commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer. It involves a combination of cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and 5-fluorouracil.

To explore long-term effects of CMF on cognitive function, researchers inEuropeconducted a study among 196 breast cancer survivors who had been treated with CMF between 1976 and 1995. The cognitive function of these women was compared with the cognitive function of more than 1,500 women who had never had cancer.

  • The cognitive test scores of the women who had been treated with CMF were slightly lower than the scores of the women who had never had cancer. Scores were lower in the areas of word learning, memory, and information processing speed.
  • The reduction in test scores among the CMF-treated women was comparable to roughly six years of age-related cognitive decline.

Although CMF is no longer commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer, there are many women currently alive who were treated with CMF in the past. For women who are experiencing subtle but persistent cognitive problems, coping strategies—such as developing systematic daily routines and preparing well for activities such as work or travel—may be helpful.

Some people appear to be more likely than others to experience long-term cognitive problems after chemotherapy, and researchers are looking into the reasons for this.

Reference: Koppelmans V, Breteler MMB, Boogerd W, Seynaeve C, Gundy C, Schagen SB. Neuropsychological performance in survivors of breast cancer more than 20 years after adjuvant chemotherapy. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Early online publication February 27, 2012.

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