Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Mental Tasks May Be Harder for Cancer Survivors

Study Shows Effect May Be Long-Term

WebMD Health News

May 31, 2005 -- Cancer survivors are more likely to suffer difficulties with mental tasks than people without cancer, according to the June 1 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers at the University of Southern California studied Swedish twins aged 65 and older. They compared mental tasks in each pair. One twin had been diagnosed with cancer and the other had not.

The researchers write that previous studies have shown that cancer survivors often experience a decline in mental tasks, but it remains "unknown how long these deficits last or whether they worsen over time.

"Our data suggest that cancer and its treatments may lower survivors' cognitive reserve and thus increase their long-term risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia, a serious clinical concern for physicians treating cancer survivors," the authors write.

In the study, 700 cancer survivors and their twins were compared in tests of mental skills such as memory, verbal recall, and general knowledge.

Overall, 15% of the cancer survivors had difficulties compared with 9% of the cancer-free twins. Cancer patients were also more likely to have dementia.

The researchers note higher rates of difficulties even in those individuals who had survived cancer five or more years before the study began. They suggest future research "explore whether specific treatments are associated with long-term cognitive effects. This knowledge will help health care providers and patients make informed decisions about treatments."

Editorial Criticizes Study's Conclusions

An editorial by neuro-oncologists at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center questions the study's conclusion. The authors say it is premature to suggest reduced mental reserve is the cause of thinking difficulties in cancer patients. They say it's possible that "persistent neurotoxicity" of cancer treatments may be to blame instead and future studies should investigate which treatment regimens are most toxic to the brain and nerve cells.

The editorial expresses particular concern about the suggestion that cancer patients tend to suffer long-term thinking impairment. "The conclusion that cancer patients are at risk for developing new late-onset cognitive dysfunction and dementia ... was not supported and could potentially alarm patients and providers."

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas