New research refutes concerns that a class of breast cancer drugs called anthracyclines might increase the risk for attention, perception, and mood deficits. The drugs were also associated with other neuropsychological issues, as well as cognitive difficulties such as memory loss.
Well-known examples of anthracyclines are Doxorubicin and Epirubicin, used to treat many types of breast cancer.
A 2015 study (on a small group of women) suggested anthracylines may cause cognitive problems and caused widespread uncertainty among physicians and their patients.
In the new study, published online in JAMA Oncology, Patricia Ganz, M.D., and Kathleen Van Dyk, Ph.D., analyzed data from a study involving women with breast cancer. The women, who were tracked for an extended time beginning immediately after their treatment for cancer, received neuropsychological evaluations conducted up to four times, from three months to just under seven years later.
To assess the effects of their treatment, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) team categorized the patients into three groups: those who received anthracycline chemotherapy, those who received chemotherapy with drugs other than anthracyclines, and those who received no chemotherapy at all.
They then compared the women’s scores on the neuropsychological tests across all four time points.
The scientists found not only that all three groups of women had comparable scores in the areas of memory, processing speed, and executive function (such as multitasking and thinking quickly under stress), but also that there were no differences in the women’s cognitive functioning over time, for up to seven years following treatment.
“These results are very exciting because we found no strong evidence linking anthracycline treatment to cognitive decline,” said Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“If a physician is recommending anthracycline-based chemotherapy, we do not believe women should be excessively fearful that it is any more likely to cause cognitive difficulties than other types of chemotherapies.”
The scientists plan to continue research focused on understanding the risks and mechanisms for cognitive dysfunction in breast cancer survivors and to investigate promising treatments for women who do experience cognitive decline.
“Experiencing cognitive dysfunction after cancer and its treatment can be extremely disruptive to the lives of breast cancer survivors, and it is critical to better understand what factors, including treatment, might put someone at greater risk for these types of problems,” Van Dyk said.
“These results bring us an important step further toward uncovering the influence of treatment on cognitive problems in these women.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study that examined the effects of endocrine therapy on cognition in breast cancer survivors.