Patients With Lymphoma May Be At Risk for Chemo Brain

Memory, attention and the ability to multitask may be affected in patients with lymphoma during and after chemotherapy treatment, which can impact one’s capability to complete daily tasks.

Patients with lymphoma may experience treatment-related cognitive decline — also known as chemo brain — after chemotherapy, which may impact their quality of life, according to study results.

Michelle C. Janelsins, lead author on the study and associate professor of surgery, oncology and neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Wilmot Cancer Institute in New York, explained that cognitive decline may cause a patient to have difficulty remembering names or places, concentrating and multitasking.

“These types of difficulties can have interference in one’s daily activities including their performance with everyday activities, as well as performance in one’s profession, educational goals and achievements,” Janelsins said in an interview with CURE®.

The researchers evaluated the cognitive function of 248 patients with lymphoma before, during and six months after chemotherapy treatment. These patients were compared with 212 people without cancer.

From before chemotherapy to six months after treatment, patients with lymphoma reported more perceived cognitive impairment than their peers without cancer.

The results, which were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, also demonstrated that patients with lymphoma performed statistically significantly worse on tests of verbal memory and delayed recall, attention, the ability to make plans and carry them out, and telephone-based category fluency (a test where a patient lists as many words as they can from a category within a given amount of time, which can include fruits, animals or words starting with a specific letter).

Overall, these changes were considered mild to moderate, “but yet, we know that even changes that are more subtle can have an impact on quality of life and interfere with an individual’s day-to-day activities,” Janelsins added.

Notably, the researchers observed that women with lymphoma reported more perceived cognitive declines compared with men with lymphoma, or those without cancer; however, there is no definite explanation to this, Janelsins said.

She mentioned that being physically active prior to and during treatment might help to mitigate the cognitive change. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy, or specific cognitive tasks training programs, may help strengthen memory, attention and ability to organize activities and thoughts.

Janelsins added this study is one of the largest to date that examined cognitive change in patients with lymphoma, which was a previously understudied population in this area.

“With these results, (we) feel that it’s important to bring awareness to this topic, and that it is something that should be addressed if patients are having any type of cognitive concern or noticing any cognitive change,” she said.

Not only can these findings bring awareness to chemo brain in patients with lymphoma, but they may also confirm a patient’s symptoms.

“I’m glad that these research results are able to help clarify and validate the patient experience,” Janelsins concluded. “And essentially, (these results show) that these difficulties are real, and that we need to better understand and develop interventions to treat them.”

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