Chemo brain and prospective memory in breast cancer patients: A mixed methods study
Some breast cancer patients report memory deficits after undergoing cancer treatment. This deficit has been given the term chemo brain. Patients who report such deficits usually complain about attention and concentration problems, such as forgetting to take their medication, or taking it twice, forgetting doctor’s appointments, reduced ability to multitask, and difficulties with driving, among others. These difficulties can significantly affect their quality of life. Most of the research to date has focused on examining a global neuropsychological aspect of chemo brain, and in the last decade , attention has been directed to the use of neuroimaging techniques. The major question addressed in this study is whether chemo brain in breast cancer patients specifically a prospective memory deficit, and whether neuropsychological assessment lacks ecological validity to measure chemo brain. It is also suggested that biological factors such as sleep and sleepiness are altered during the course of cancer treatment, and those factors may also be playing a role in the cognitive impairment of cancer patients. The method used to examine these questions included a mixed methods design in which a quantitative study was conducted using a neuropsychological battery and physiological measures as well as a qualitative study, which involved thematic analyses and case studies, aided by semi-structured interviews and questionnaires.
Overall, the results of this study confirmed that breast cancer patients have poorer prospective memory than controls, and that patients’ self-reports are inconsistent with results derived from the objective neuropsychological battery. This implies that more sensitive measures for the assessment of chemo brain should be developed, and that more emphasis needs to be placed on the study of prospective memory and chemo brain to provide patients with the most efficient care and psychological treatment in order to improve their quality of life.