According to a new research published on May 2nd, 2016, in the journal Cancer, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been linked to reducing long term chemotherapy related cognitive dysfunction (CRDC) and after effects of chemotherapy which impact a huge number of breast cancer survivors. Those who underwent the therapy program reported significantly lower memory loss, had better neuro-psychological processing speed test results and reported less anxiety concerning mental health problems in comparison with those who received supportive or talk therapy.

Researchers from the Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) and Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Bangor identified the need for a treatment plan and came up with Memory and Attention Adaptation Training (MAAT) by keeping in mind the basic principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It focuses on regaining the memory and attention spans of these individuals by increasing awareness and providing them with individualized therapy sessions through a video conference device.

A total of 47 Caucasian women suffering from breast cancer were included in the study after they had received four years of chemotherapy. They were then divided into two groups randomly with one group being given MAAT sessions lasting from 30-45 minutes along with stress reduction strategies with the therapist such as verbal rehearsal and visualization training. Verbal rehearsal involves repeating a word over and over again out loud or in one’s mind so one is able to recall it and visualization training is used to increase concentration and creativity by activating the amygdala and pre frontal cortex. The other group was given talk therapy with no active behavioral training. The participants were also asked to fill in questionnaires and tests regarding their memory issues, anxiety and quality of life. After eight complete sessions had been conducted, they were then retested and assessed with another follow up of two months confirming the results.

The lead author of the study Robert J Ferguson says, ‘This is what we believe is the first randomized study with an active control condition that demonstrates improvement in cognitive symptoms in breast cancer survivors with long-term memory complaints.’

Previous studies have also shown how chemotherapy impacts memory. A study published on February 27, 2012, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by a team of Dutch researchers took 196 women with breast cancer who had received chemo therapy and were compared to a group of women without cancer. Results revealed that women who had undergone chemo therapy were reported to have low scores in tests concerned with immediate and delayed verbal memory, information processing speed, inhibition and psychomotor speed.

Chemotherapy related cognitive dysfunction tends to affect the verbal memory of most individuals and makes them forget everyday things such as remembering what conversation they had earlier or even basic instructions they need to follow for their treatment program. Visual memory also gets impaired, the survivor has a hard time recalling important memory events and has difficulty remembering images, words, names, dates or phone numbers. The speed at which the person processes information also becomes slower and the patient is often not able to multitask effectively anymore. These symptoms vary from individual to individual and depend on the person’s age and stress level; history of anxiety and stress; coping strategies and support system; financial conditions and the diagnosed stage of cancer. Symptoms can last for up to five to ten years and cause various problems in the person’s relationships, social life as well as professional life and health.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer which is found in women regardless of one’s race and ethnicity and is considered to be most common cause of death. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 224,147 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 in United States out of which 41,150 did not make it. Breast cancer also tends to affect men; however, the incidences and statistics for them are much lower.

Further work needs to be carried out by expanding and diversifying the sample size to see what sort of cultural and gender differences might occur in order to put a stop to the rapid growth of this tormenting disease. Though these training sessions and programs are not a direct cure, they certainly do provide relief to the patient and many were reported saying that they were highly satisfied with the treatment method and were happy that it was a non-invasive approach which did not include any drugs or medication. The new treatment approach is a step towards improvement and is also feasible and practical for those who cannot make it to the clinic centers at all times but are yet still able to gain the maximum benefit of the therapy by reduced travel time through the ease of their homes.