Washington, DC – Many cancer patients experience a change in thinking and memory during and after chemotherapy often referred to as “chemo brain.” The cause of this mental fog and lack of concentration has not yet been established. That’s why researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of Georgetown University Medical Center, are studying the cognitive change in older women and exploring possible genetic factors commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease to see if a link exists.
“More than half of breast cancer patients are older than 60 and many are already experiencing some cognitive decline. It’s possible that treatment could be having a greater impact on them,” explains Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, a geriatrician who specializes in understanding the risks and benefits of cancer screening and treatment. “If a patient has a low probability of her cancer returning and is on the fence about whether or not to undergo chemotherapy, then knowing her risk of cognitive impairment caused by chemo would be an important factor in her decision.”
Mandelblatt is leading the first, multi-center national longitudinal study to rigorously examine risks for cognitive decline in older breast cancer patients taking chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. This national study is also the first to include genetic vulnerability as a risk factor. Specifically, Mandelblatt and her team will test patients for the presence of APOE, a possible risk factor of cognitive decline.
Experts have long established that certain variations in the APOE gene increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Test results from studies involving APOE testing will not be revealed to the study participant, but rather, will be used to inform researchers looking for a possible link between the presence of APOE variations and an increased risk of greater cognitive decline following chemotherapy.
“We’re also encouraging our study participants to invite their female friends who are about the same age, but don’t have a cancer diagnosis, to enroll in the national clinical trial,” says Mandelblatt. She says the non-cancer study participants provide a group against which results can be compared.
All study participants will undergo baseline neuropsychological testing. Those individuals with breast cancer must have the testing done prior to receiving treatment. In order to provide a comprehensive assessment, the participants will also complete a survey about their activities of daily living and their quality of life; will provide a blood or saliva sample; and will have follow up interviews and neuropsychological testing be conducted 12 and 24 months after the baseline tests.
Patients or healthy volunteers interested in learning more about this study should contact Meghan McGuckin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-687-8247.
Mandelblatt has assembled a multi-disciplinary team of oncologists, geriatricians, neurologists, neuro- and cognitive psychologists, behavioral scientists and consumers from Georgetown Lombardi, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Boston University and Breast Cancer Network of Strength, formerly Y-Me, a national breast cancer advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago. This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Mandelblatt reports having no personal financial interest related to the study.
About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO). In fiscal year 2009-2010, GUMC accounted for 79 percent of Georgetown University’s extramural research funding.