New Online Tool May Reduce Cancer Survivors' Cognitive Impairment From Chemotherapy

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This inexpensive, web-based treatment may help patients overcome cognitive issues from chemotherapy.
This inexpensive, web-based treatment may help patients overcome cognitive issues from chemotherapy.

A home-based online cognitive rehabilitation intervention may be a feasible treatment option for cancer survivors troubled by cognitive symptoms following chemotherapy, according to researchers in Australia. In a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the authors suggest the online intervention is a relatively simple and effective tool for helping patients with cancer who suffer from chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment (chemobrain).1

The researchers studied the use of this web-based treatment, InsightTM, and found that the 15-week program markedly improved participants' self-reported cognitive function. It also reduced anxiety, depression, and fatigue. One reason these findings are encouraging is that there are no proven treatments for these cognitive impairments.

“The program is based upon the neuroplasticity model suggesting that the brain is capable of remodeling in response to different stimuli and experiences throughout life,” said study author Victoria Bray, MD, a medical oncologist at the University of Sydney in Australia.

According to Dr Bray, the program targets a number of cognitive domains known to be affected in cancer patients, such as memory and attention. Previous small studies of diverse cognitive rehabilitation strategies show preliminary evidence of efficacy with this web-based program; the researchers were therefore pleased to see this approach working in a larger, randomized controlled trial.

The study included 242 adult cancer survivors (median age 53 years) who had completed chemotherapy in the 6 to 60 months prior to the study, and who reported persistent cognitive symptoms. Nearly all participants were women (95%), and 89% were breast cancer survivors. At the beginning of the study, all participants received a personalized 30-minute telephone consultation that included tips and strategies for coping with cognitive problems in daily life. All participants were randomly assigned to the web-based cognitive rehabilitation program or to standard care.

At the end of the 15-week program and 6 months thereafter, self-reported cognitive function was markedly improved in the cognitive training group versus the standard care group. Program participants reported less perceived cognitive impairment, better cognitive abilities, and lower levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and stress.

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