MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Lori J Bernstein, PhD, CPsych
Neuropsychologist, Dept. of Supportive Care
Core Member, Cancer Rehabilitation & Survivorship Program
ELLICSR Centre for Health Wellness and Cancer Survivorship
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN
Clinical Research Unit Member,
Princess Margaret Research Institute
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine
University of Toronto
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Despite the increasing role of (chemo-)radiation treatment for head and neck cancer (HNC), and involvement of central nervous system structures in the radiation field, we don’t know a lot about whether there are short or long term consequences in thinking abilities in survivors. So our question was this: Do people treated for head and neck cancer with radiation or chemoradiation have short or long term neurocognitive deficits after treatment?
We assessed head and neck cancer patients and healthy non-cancer controls four times, first at baseline (after diagnosis but before treatment), and then again 6, 12, and 24 months later. We found that compared to the controls, patients decline over time in several different neurocognitive domains, including concentration, verbal memory, and executive function. We found that as many as 38% of patients suffered from impaired global neurocognitive functioning by two years after treatment compared to none of the controls.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: The findings indicate that some (but not all) head and neck cancer survivors are at risk of suffering from declines in thinking abilities such as attention and memory. These changes can be subtle and increase gradually. We didn’t follow people beyond 2 years after treatment, so we don’t know whether these deficits would improve, worsen, or stabilize after that.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Longer longitudinal follow-up is needed to determine if symptoms change after 2 years. More investigation of the relationships between treatment variables such as radiation dosing and long term neurocognitive function is important. Further research is also needed to find ways to avoid, reduce and compensate for declines.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: We are extremely grateful to the people who participated in this study. We plan to reassess participants for several more years, so we hope to know more about even longer term cognitive function in people treated for head and neck cancer. In addition, I want to acknowledge that we could not have done this work without the support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and The Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Alona Zer, Gregory R. Pond, Albiruni R. Abdul Razak, Kattleya Tirona, Hui K. Gan, Eric X. Chen, Brian O’Sullivan, John Waldron, David P. Goldstein, Ilan Weinreb, Andrew J. Hope, John J. Kim, Kelvin K. W. Chan, Andrew K. Chan, Lillian L. Siu, Lori J. Bernstein. Association of Neurocognitive Deficits With Radiotherapy or Chemoradiotherapy for Patients With Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online November 22, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2017.2235
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