Study Supports Cognitive Problems in Breast Older Cancer Survivors


Survivors of breast cancer suffer from cognitive disabilities years after treatment and scientists are still trying to figure out why. Moreover, inflammation is one of the culprits behind it. A long-term study was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and co-led by researchers of UCLA.

According to the new study, there is a relationship between higher levels of C-reactive protein (inflammatory marker) and older breast cancer survivors, reporting problems in cognitive functions.

Judith Carroll, lead author of the study said,

Blood tests for CRP are used routinely in the clinic to determine the risk of heart disease. Our study suggests this common test for inflammation might also be an indicator of risk for cognitive problems reported by breast cancer survivors

Thinking and Living with Cancer Study

This study is one of the first long-term studies examining the potential link between chronic inflammation and cognitive problems in survivors of breast cancer who are sixty and older. They also make up most of the breast cancer survivor population in the United States. Moreover, the previous research has widely focused on younger women and women post-therapy. However, it made drawing conclusions difficult about CRP’s long-term effect on cognitive problems among older breast cancer survivors.

Blood samples were taken from multiple breast cancer survivors for the study. Additionally, samples of cancer-free women up to six times during the course of five years were also taken. The motivation behind the study was survivors talking about cognitive problems being their major concern.

Dr. Jeanne Mandelblatt, co-senior author of the study said,

Cognitive issues affect women’s daily lives years after completing treatment, and their reports of their own ability to complete tasks and remember things was the strongest indicator of problems in this study

Professor Elizabeth C. Breen, co-senior author said,

Being able to test for levels of inflammation at the same time that cognition was being rigorously evaluated gave the TLC team a potential window into the biology underlying cognitive concerns

Cognitive Function Evaluation

The evaluation was done using commonly used questionnaires, which asked about how women perceive their ability to remember things. For example, direction, names, directions, concentration abilities, and other life aspects. Higher CRP levels were seen in survivors predicted to have lower reported cognitive functions. However, the cognition in relation to CRP levels wasn’t the same for women without cancer.

The test used to measure cognitive performance was the standard neuropsychological test. The test failed to show a link between cognition and CRP and it may indicate that women have sensitivity to differences in their everyday cognitive function. It also includes self-reporting changes. Moreover, other tests usually miss these changes.

Can Interventions Lower Inflammation?

The authors say that more studies are needed to support whether interventions lower inflammation, which includes an increase in physical activity, better sleep, and anti-inflammatory medications. Moreover, these may reduce or prevent cognitive problems in older survivors of breast cancer.


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