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J Clin Oncol. 2010 Oct 10;28(29):4434-40. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2009.27.0827. Epub 2010 Sep 13.

Longitudinal assessment of cognitive changes associated with adjuvant treatment for breast cancer: impact of age and cognitive reserve.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10022, USA.



To examine the impact of age and cognitive reserve on cognitive functioning in patients with breast cancer who are receiving adjuvant treatments.


Patients with breast cancer exposed to chemotherapy (n = 60; mean age, 51.7 years) were evaluated with a battery of neuropsychological and psychological tests before treatment and at 1, 6, and 18 months after treatment. Patients not exposed to chemotherapy (n = 72; mean age, 56.6 years) and healthy controls (n = 45; mean age, 52.9 years) were assessed at matched intervals.


Mixed-effects modeling revealed significant effects for the Processing Speed and Verbal Ability domains. For Processing Speed, a three-way interaction among treatment group, age, and baseline cognitive reserve (P < .001) revealed that older patients with lower baseline cognitive reserve who were exposed to chemotherapy had lower performance on Processing Speed compared with patients not exposed to chemotherapy (P = .003) and controls (P < .001). A significant group by time interaction for Verbal Ability (P = .01) suggested that the healthy controls and no chemotherapy groups improved over time. The chemotherapy group failed to improve at 1 month after treatment but improved during the last two follow-up assessments. Exploratory analyses suggested a negative effect of tamoxifen on Processing Speed (P = .036) and Verbal Memory (P = .05) in the no-chemotherapy group.


These data demonstrated that age and pretreatment cognitive reserve were related to post-treatment decline in Processing Speed in women exposed to chemotherapy and that chemotherapy had a short-term impact on Verbal Ability. Exploratory analysis of the impact of tamoxifen suggests that this pattern of results may be due to a combination of chemotherapy and tamoxifen.

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