Georgetown Lombardi Researcher Studies Brain Changes from Chemotherapy

March 9, 2011

Whether negative cognitive changes in older, female cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or hormonal therapy are linked to Alzheimer’s disease is the subject of a study involving Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Georgetown Lombardi is part of the Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital.

“More than half of breast cancer patients are older than 60 and many are already experiencing some cognitive decline,” says Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, a Georgetown geriatrician leading a multicenter, national longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health. “If a patient has a low probability of her cancer returning and is on the fence about whether or not to undergo chemotherapy … knowing her risk of cognitive impairment caused by chemo would be an important factor in her decision.”

Risk Factors

Many cancer patients experience a change in thinking and memory during and after chemotherapy that some refer to as “chemo brain.”

The longitudinal study is the first to include genetic vulnerability as a risk factor, with Mandelblatt and her research team testing patients for the presence of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Mandelblatt, Lombardi’s associate director for population sciences, is working with a multidisciplinary group of researchers that includes oncologists, geriatricians, neurologists, neuropsychologists, cognitive psychologists and behavioral scientists from Lombardi, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Boston University and the Breast Cancer Network of Strength advocacy organization.

Test results will be used to inform researchers, not revealed to study participants.

“We’re also encouraging our study participants to invite their female friends who are about the same age, but don’t have a cancer diagnosis, to enroll in the national clinical trial,” Mandleblatt says.

Baseline Testing

The noncancer participants will provide a group against which the results with cancer patients may be compared.

All study participants undergo baseline neuropsychological testing, with cancer patients getting testing prior to receiving chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

Participants complete a survey about the daily activities and quality of life and will have follow up interviews and testing one year and two years after the baseline test.

Author: Originally published on March 4, 2011 by Georgetown University Office of Communications