Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center announced the launch of a study that examines the effect of chemotherapy on the thoughts and memory of patients on Jan. 31.

Researchers will interview and run neurological exams and DNA tests on female breast cancer patients who have been treated with chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Results collected during the study will be observed for behavioral and genetic indicators of cognitive decay, a decrease in one’s processing abilities sometimes known as “chemo-brain.”

Jeanne Mandelblatt, the associate director for population sciences at the Lombardi Center and leader of the clinical study, said that the signs of cognitive decline can vary.

Those with “chemo-brain” may experience loss of memory, often forgetting to complete assignments or failing to remember others’ names.  This is accompanied by an impaired ability to organize or to focus on a particular subject.  Cognitive decay makes ordinary tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal, more difficult for the patient.

No prior study in the field has targeted the demographic of older, female breast cancer patients.  This new research aims to increase awareness of therapy’s effects on those over age 60, a group that has a high possibility of developing cancer according to the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

“We hypothesize that the effects [of cognitive decline] in younger people are going to be less than in older people,” Mandelblatt said. “Many older women no longer have the reserve or balance to compensate for these difficulties.”

While research may not reveal the direct cause of loss of brain function, the indication of a link between cognitive decline and systemic therapy, which is based on group interaction, would increase the variety of cancer treatments considered by doctors.

Mandelblatt said the discovery of such a connection would emphasize newer and more efficient treatments for aging female patients. For those with increased susceptibility to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, programs like intensive cognitive training courses would fend off symptoms and improve patients’ ability to function normally.

Systemic therapies will most likely remain popular amongst oncologists and cancer specialists, regardless of the study’s conclusions.

Women might choose an alternative to chemotherapy if systemic treatment is optional. This decision would depend upon many factors, such as a woman’s risk of developing cognitive problems.

Testing will be done at the Lombardi Center and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  Several private doctors in the D.C. area will also be authorized to issue examinations.

The 325 participants must be above the age of 60 and recently diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time.  Each individual participant will receive testing three separate times over a span of two years.

Administrators are additionally recruiting women from the same age bracket who do not have cancer to volunteer for the study.  Data gathered from this control group will prove as a point of reference for researchers.

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