Cognitive Effects of Cancer and Its Treatments at the Intersection of Aging: What Do We Know; What Do We Need to Know?

Seminars in Oncology (Impact Factor: 3.9). 12/2013; 40(6):709–725. DOI: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2013.09.006


There is a fairly consistent, albeit non-universal body of research documenting cognitive declines after cancer and its treatments. While few of these studies have included subjects aged 65 years and older, it is logical to expect that older patients are at risk of cognitive decline. Here, we use breast cancer as an exemplar disease for inquiry into the intersection of aging and cognitive effects of cancer and its therapies. There are a striking number of common underlying potential biological risks and pathways for the development of cancer, cancer-related cognitive declines, and aging processes, including the development of a frail phenotype. Candidate shared pathways include changes in hormonal milieu, inflammation, oxidative stress, DNA damage and compromised DNA repair, genetic susceptibility, decreased brain blood flow or disruption of the blood-brain barrier, direct neurotoxicity, decreased telomere length, and cell senescence. There also are similar structure and functional changes seen in brain imaging studies of cancer patients and those seen with “normal” aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Disentangling the role of these overlapping processes is difficult since they require aged animal models and large samples of older human subjects. From what we do know, frailty and its low cognitive reserve seem to be a clinically useful marker of risk for cognitive decline after cancer and its treatments. This and other results from this review suggest the value of geriatric assessments to identify older patients at the highest risk of cognitive decline. Further research is needed to understand the interactions between aging, genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors, and frailty phenotypes to best identify the subgroups of older patients at greatest risk for decline and to develop behavioral and pharmacological interventions targeting this group. We recommend that basic science and population trials be developed specifically for older hosts with intermediate endpoints of relevance to this group, including cognitive function and trajectories of frailty. Clinicians and their older patients can advance the field by active encouragement of and participation in research designed to improve the care and outcomes of the growing population of older cancer patients.

Download full-text


Available from: Raymond Scott Turner, Feb 11, 2014
  • Source
    • "Cancer is predominantly a disease of the elderly and an increase in cancer-associated deaths is also expected [5]. The cognitive deficits arising in relation to cancer, its treatment, aging, frailty and their pathophysiological intersection are well highlighted [6,7]. Given the increasing exposure of practitioners in palliative and supportive care to delirium in the context of a broad spectrum of life-threatening diseases and care settings, their approach to the diagnosis, screening and management of delirium warrants careful consideration. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Purpose of review Our review focuses on recent developments across many settings regarding the diagnosis, screening and management of delirium, so as to inform these aspects in the context of palliative and supportive care. Recent findings Delirium diagnostic criteria have been updated in the long-awaited Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. Studies suggest that poor recognition of delirium relates to its clinical characteristics, inadequate interprofessional communication and lack of systematic screening. Validation studies are published for cognitive and observational tools to screen for delirium. Formal guidelines for delirium screening and management have been rigorously developed for intensive care, and may serve as a model for other settings. Given that palliative sedation is often required for the management of refractory delirium at the end of life, a version of the Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale, modified for palliative care, has undergone preliminary validation. Summary Although formal systematic delirium screening with brief but sensitive tools is strongly advocated for patients in palliative and supportive care, it requires critical evaluation in terms of clinical outcomes, including patient comfort. Randomized controlled trials are needed to inform the development of guidelines for the management of delirium in this setting.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Cognitive effects of cancer and its treatment have been a topic of increasing investigation over the past ~30 years. Recent studies have focused on better understanding the neural correlates of these effects, with an emphasis on post-chemotherapy effects in breast cancer patients. Structural MRI studies have utilized both automated and manual approaches to quantify gray and white matter characteristics (e.g., regional volume and density) in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy relative to patients who did not receive chemotherapy and/or healthy controls. While most work to date has been retrospective, a small number of baseline (pre-systemic therapy) and prospective longitudinal studies have been conducted. Data have consistently shown lower gray and white matter volume and density in patients treated with chemotherapy, particularly in frontal and temporal brain regions. Host factors and/or the cancer disease process and other therapies (e.g., antiestrogen treatment) also seem likely to contribute to the observed differences, though the relative contributions of these effects have not yet been investigated in detail. These structural abnormalities have been shown to relate to subjective and objective cognitive functioning, as well as to biological factors that may help to elucidate the underlying mechanism(s). This review examines the currently available published observations and discusses the major themes and promising directions for future studies.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2013 · Brain Imaging and Behavior
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Cognitive changes in patients undergoing treatment for non-central nervous system (CNS) cancers have been recognized for several decades, yet the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Structural, functional and molecular neuroimaging has the potential to help clarify the neural bases of these cognitive abnormalities. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), MR spectroscopy (MRS), and positron emission tomography (PET) have all been employed in the study of cognitive effects of cancer treatment, with most studies focusing on breast cancer and changes thought to be induced by chemotherapy. Articles in this special issue of Brain Imaging and Behavior are devoted to neuroimaging studies of cognitive changes in patients with non-CNS cancer and include comprehensive critical reviews and novel research findings. The broad conclusions that can be drawn from past studies and the present body of new research is that there are structural and functional changes associated with cancer and various treatments, particularly systemic cytotoxic chemotherapy, although some cognitive and fMRI studies have identified changes at pre-treatment baseline. Recommendations to accelerate progress include well-powered multicenter neuroimaging studies, a better standardized definition of the cognitive phenotype and extension to other cancers. A systems biology framework incorporating multimodality neuroimaging, genetics and other biomarkers will be highly informative regarding individual differences in risk and protective factors and disease- and treatment-related mechanisms. Studies of interventions targeting cognitive changes are also needed. These next steps are expected to identify novel protective strategies and facilitate a more personalized medicine for cancer patients.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · Brain Imaging and Behavior
Show more