People with a history of cancer appear to be 40% more likely to experience memory problems than people with no history of cancer. These findings were recently presented at the Third American Association for Cancer Research Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities.

Previous, smaller studies have linked diagnoses of specific cancers (such as prostate and breast cancers) with memory impairment. This larger, nationwide study evaluated memory problems among survivors of a variety of cancers. Memory impairment can be a significant quality-of-life issue for survivors because it can affect daily functioning.

Researchers with the current study used data from 9,819 people from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination survey. Participants were 40 years old and older and represented diverse educational and racial and ethnic backgrounds. Of the participants, 1,305 had been diagnosed with cancer. The study included a physical exam and a survey, which asked the question: “Are you limited in any way because of difficulty remembering or because you experience periods of confusion?”

Findings indicated that 14% of patients with a history of cancer had memory problems compared with 8% of people who had not had cancer. The researchers determined that cancer survivors were 40% more likely to have trouble with memory that interfered with daily functioning than those who had not had cancer.

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“The findings indicate that cancer is, therefore, a key independent predictor of memory problems in the sample studied,” one of the researchers concluded. Although there is currently no cure for memory impairment, recognition of a link between a history of cancer and memory problems along with management of symptoms may help improve patient quality of life.

Reference: Antoni M, Jean-Pierre P, Armstrong D, et al. Prevalence of memory problems that limit daily functioning in a national representative sample of adult cancer patients in the United States population. Presented at Third AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities, Miami Florida, September 30-October 3, 2010. Abstract A61.