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J Oncol Pract. 2012 Jan;8(1):30-4. doi: 10.1200/JOP.2011.000231. Epub 2011 Nov 22.

Prevalence of self-reported memory problems in adult cancer survivors: a national cross-sectional study.

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  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; University of Miami; Holtz Children's Hospital, University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, Miami, FL; University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester; and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY.



Cancer and its treatments can impair cognitive function, especially memory, leading to diminished quality of life. Prevalence studies of cancer treatment-related memory impairment have not been conducted in the adult-onset cancer population.


To determine the prevalence of self-reported memory (SRM) problems in people with and without a history of cancer, we analyzed data from a large, nationally representative sample of the civilian, noninstitutionalized US population. Participants answered the yes-or-no question, "Are you limited in any way because of difficulty remembering or because you experience periods of confusion?" Age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, poverty, and general health were controlled.


The sample (N = 9,819) consisted of 4,862 men and 4,957 women age 40 years and older. There were 1,938 blacks, 5,552 whites, 1,998 Hispanics, and 331 participants categorized as other race/multiracial. Of these, 1,305 reported a history of cancer; 8,514 did not. Memory problems were self-reported more often by participants with a history of cancer (14%) than by those without (8%). Having had cancer was independently associated with SRM impairment (adjusted odds ratio, 1.4; 95% CI, 1.08 to 1.83). Other predictors of memory impairment were age, lower education, lower income, and poorer general health (P < .01 for all). Participants with cancer had a 40% greater likelihood of reporting memory problems relative to those without cancer.


Cancer history independently predicted SRM impairment. Prevalence of SRM impairment in people with a history of cancer/cancer treatment is substantial and increasing. Health care providers should assess and be ready to treat memory impairment in patients with a history of cancer.

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