Chemotherapy impairs brain function
New evidence chemotherapy for breast cancer causes brain damage
S. L. Baker
2011 November 15
Primary breast cancer (meaning a breast malignancy that hasn’t spread to other parts of the body) isn’t usually thought of as causing neurological problems. After all, if cancer hasn’t spread to the brain, why would it? Researchers have been forced to wonder about the answer to that question because a growing body of evidence over the past several years strongly suggests that women with breast cancer are at increased risk for not only problems with brain function but with actual alterations in their brain structure, too.
It turns out, according to a report just published in the November issue of the Archives of Neurology, that it’s not the cancer but the treatment for breast cancer — specifically chemotherapy — that could be causing a significant amount of the neurological impairment with poor outcomes seen in women with breast cancer.
Shelli R. Kesler, Ph.D., and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, conducted an observational study to investigate whether patterns of brain activation differed between breast cancer survivors who were treated with chemotherapy and those who didn’t have chemo. The research team also compared the brain activity of these breast cancer survivors to the brain activity of healthy women who were cancer-free.
In all, the study involved 25 women with breast cancer who received chemotherapy, 19 women with breast cancer who did not undergo chemotherapy, and 18 healthy female controls. All the research subjects were matched for age and other variables. The women were asked to perform a variety of tasks while the scientists used functional MRIs to measure and document activation in several areas of the women’s brains.