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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Feb 5;95(3):190-7.

Adjuvant breast cancer treatment and cognitive function: current knowledge and research directions.

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  • 1Department of Haematology and Medical Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, St. Andrew's Place, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Evidence is mounting that potentially curative systemic adjuvant therapy for early-stage breast cancer may result in cognitive impairment. Five published studies have investigated cognitive function in this setting, and the consistent results of all five studies suggest an adverse effect of adjuvant chemotherapy. These studies are reviewed with particular attention to their methodologic limitations. For example, all five studies used cross-sectional designs, none controlled for possible confounding hormonal factors, and three examined patients who had not received a uniform chemotherapy regimen. The potential roles of chemotherapy-induced menopause and of adjuvant hormonal therapy in cognitive impairment are also discussed. Priorities for future research include confirmation of an effect of adjuvant chemotherapy in a study with a longitudinal design, closer examination of the potential contribution of hormonal factors, and similar studies on the effect of adjuvant therapy on cognitive function in other cancer types. If an effect of systemic adjuvant therapy on cognitive function is confirmed, such an effect will have implications for informed consent. It may also result in incorporation of objective measures of cognition in clinical trials of adjuvant therapy and in the investigation of preventive interventions that might minimize the impact of cognitive dysfunction after cancer treatment.

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