Purpose: Self-reported cognitive impairment after chemotherapy has instigated the colloquial use of the term “chemo-brain”. There is, however, uncertainty related to the cognitive impairments observed following cancer treatment, both in terms of the potential causes and long term status. The aim of the current study was to investigate: a) the long-term prevalence of self-reported cognitive failures in a large population based sample of breast cancer survivors, and, b) whether such reports differ between survivors treated with or without chemotherapy. Methods: Data originated from a large Danish nationwide cohort study including 3343 women treated for primary breast cancer. Follow-up data 7-10 years after initial surgery include questionnaires from 2061 recurrence-free breast cancer survivors (34-80 years). Of these, 870 (42.2%) had received chemotherapy. Self-reported cognitive failure was assessed with the Cognitive Failure Questionnaire (CFQ), which consists of 25 items related to daily cognitive functioning rated on a five-point Likert scale (0-4), with higher scores indicating higher levels of perceived cognitive failures. Results: Mean CFQ score in all survivors was 31.32 (SD=12.56). Univariate analysis showed that the chemotherapy group (M=32.63, SD=13.12) reported significantly more cognitive complaints than the non-chemo group (M=30.37, SD=12.05), (t(2059) = -3.76, p<.001). A significant inverse association was found between age and CFQ (r = -0.132, p<0.01) When adjusting for age, no group differences in CFQ scores were found (F(1,2058) = 0.61, p>.05). Conclusions: Breast cancer patients, 7-10 years post-surgery, did not report high levels of cognitive failures. Furthermore the present study did not detect long-term chemotherapy induced cognitive impairments following breast cancer when the effect of age was accounted for. Our results therefore indicate that any initial cognitive complaints may have diminished seven to ten years after treatment, and that younger breast cancer patients are slightly more susceptible to report cognitive failures.
Cognitive impairment, cognitive failure, breast cancer, CFQ, cancer treatment