Common Class of Breast Cancer Drugs May Not Trigger 'Chemo Brain': Study

Common Class of Breast Cancer Drugs May Not Trigger 'Chemo Brain': Study

Common Class of Breast Cancer Drugs May Not Trigger 'Chemo Brain': Study

Anthracyclines are widely used, but new research finds no link between the meds and survivors' mental function

SOURCES: Nina D'Abreo, M.D., department of oncology and hematology, Winthrop-University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; Stephanie Bernik, M.D., chief, surgical oncology, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; JAMA Oncology, news release, April 21, 2016

THURSDAY, April 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Some breast cancer patients complain of a fogged mental condition often called "chemo brain," experienced after their therapy.

Now, new research suggests that at least one class of chemotherapy drugs, called anthracyclines, is not related to the debilitating condition.

Anthracyclines include medications such as doxorubicin and epirubicin, among others.

One expert not connected to the study said the findings should be reassuring for patients.

Used in combination with other drugs, anthracyclines "have a long track record in the treatment of breast cancer and still are the preferred regimens, especially in younger, fit women with aggressive breast cancer such as triple-negative cancer," explained Dr. Nina D'Abreo. She is an oncologist at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

"It is encouraging to know that women who are felt to be most likely to benefit from these regimens have one less side effect to consider," she said.

In the study, researchers led by Dr. Patricia Ganz, of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, assessed certain mental skills -- memory, processing speed and executive function -- in breast cancer survivors. Investigators checked in with the women at three months, six months, one year and an average of 4.8 years after the survivors had finished their primary treatment.

According to Ganz's team, the women's mental skills were similar whether or not they had received anthracycline as part of their chemotherapy. This remained true for up to seven years after treatment, the findings showed.

The findings contradict previous study results, the researchers said.

"In this study, we could not find evidence to support the claim that anthracycline treatment confers greater risk of cognitive [mental] decline for breast cancer survivors," Ganz and colleagues wrote.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik is chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She called the study "well-formulated," but said the fact that its findings contradict those of prior studies is puzzling.

"It is obvious that more study needs to be carried out to investigate whether or not chemotherapy has long-term cognitive consequences," she said.

The report was published online April 21 in the journal JAMA Oncology.

More information

The U.S National Cancer Institute has more on breast cancer treatment.
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