Many women treated for breast cancer say they have problems remembering, thinking, and concentrating during and after treatment.
A small study has found that a computer-based training program improved the memories of women who’ve been treated for breast cancer, as well as their ability to quickly process information.
The research was published in the October 2012 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Read the abstract of “Advanced cognitive training for breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial.”
Because many women report noticing problems with memory, thinking, and concentration when they’re getting chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, these problems are commonly called “chemobrain” or “chemofog.” Doctors call these issues cognitive impairment or cognitive problems.
No matter which treatments are used, some women treated for breast cancer may have trouble with:
- learning new tasks
- remembering names
- paying attention and concentrating
- finding the right words
- remembering where things are (keys, glasses, etc.)
In this study, 82 women who had been treated for breast cancer and had concerns about their memory and thinking were randomly split into three groups:
- one group completed a memory training program
- one group completed a computer-based thought processing speed training program
- one group did no training to improve memory or thought processing speed (they were told they were wait-listed for the training programs)
The memory training program taught the women strategies for remembering word lists, sequences, and written passages.
The thought processing speed training used a computer program called Insight that gave the women a series of information tasks that got progressively harder.
All the women’s memory and thinking abilities were evaluated by the researchers before the training, immediately after the training, and 2 months after the training. The women also were asked about their quality of life, anxiety, and fatigue at each evaluation.
The results showed that compared to women who did no training, women who completed the memory training program had better memories 2 months after the training.
Women who completed the thought processing speed training program had better thought processing speed both immediately after the training and 2 months after the training. These women also had better memories immediately after the thought processing training and 2 months after the training.
The women who completed the memory training and thought processing speed training also said they felt they were thinking more clearly and had better quality of life compared to the women who didn’t do a training program.
These results are very exciting and promising; still, because this study was small, more research is needed to see if the results are confirmed in a larger group of women.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and are having thinking and memory problems, there are things you can do to help yourself. You might want to read the transcript of a 2008 Breastcancer.org Ask-the-Expert Online Conference on Managing Chemo Brain to learn about other women’s experiences, questions, and answers from Breastcancer.org medical experts. You’ll find tips on:
- managing memory challenges
- keeping your mind alert
- getting more and better quality sleep
- staying safe when you’re not so alert