Women recently treated for breast cancer who are experiencing cognitive difficulties commonly referred to as “chemo brain” are being sought to volunteer for an interventional study at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The randomized study seeks to evaluate a five-week targeted rehabilitation intervention program for breast cancer survivors designed to decrease troubles they may be having thinking and concentrating after receiving treatment. A pilot study of the intervention program showed that the techniques provided benefit to the breast cancer survivors, said Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and principal investigator of the study.
“Women with chemo brain often can't focus, remember things or multitask the way they did before their breast cancer treatments. They can be overwhelmed with day-to-day life,” Ganz said. “They can’t recall phone numbers or where they put their keys. The intervention program is designed to address these concerns, to provide tools and techniques to aid with memory and focus.”
Women in both arms of the study will be trained to use behavioral intervention strategies, but one group will be introduced to them earlier than the other randomized group. The group that is taught the intervention techniques first will be compared to the group that hasn’t yet been exposed to them. That group will then receive the training sessions, Ganz said.
Diana Franklin of Los Angeles underwent treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive disease, in late 2008 and early 2009. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy. More chemotherapy followed surgery, and then she did seven weeks of radiation. She also completed 27 sessions in a hyperbaric chamber to help with wound healing.
Franklin said she knew something was happening in her normally sharp brain after the second round of chemotherapy.
“I used to have a good memory and I was great at multitasking,” she said. “Then I couldn’t remember where my purse or my keys were. I would forget when I had plans with my husband and my multitasking really went south.”
When Franklin heard about the chemo brain study at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, she jumped at the chance to enroll. Today, she and her husband of 27 years, Marc, have noticed a marked improvement in her cognitive abilities after the five-week study.
“I’d say I’m not 100 percent the way I was, but I have definitely improved. I’m able to focus better now and I’m not as scattered as I was,” Franklin said. “I highly recommend this study to anyone going through chemo brain. It gave me hope just to enroll, knowing I was doing something to help fix a problem that was so frustrating to me.”
Ganz and her team are seeking 60 volunteers to participate in the study, which is funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Prior to starting the intervention classes, study volunteers will be given a quantitative electroencephalography or EEG, which measures electrical activity in the brain. Ganz hopes to determine if the intervention techniques result in a change in EEG patterns and whether certain patterns are associated with improvements in cognitive functioning. If so, the test could potentially be used to detect and monitor women suffering from cognitive complaints following treatment.
Neuro-cognitive test performance also will be checked before and after participating in the intervention program. Women will also be asked to fill out a survey questionnaire at home prior to coming to UCLA.
Ganz said it’s possible that study participants will see improvements in their concentration, memory and attention span during and after the program ends.
To find out more about the study, call (310) 825-2520.
UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation's largest comprehensive cancer centers, the Jonsson center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2012, the Jonsson Cancer Center was once again named among the nation’s top 10 cancer centers by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 12 of the last 13 years. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, visit our website at http://www.cancer.ucla.edu.