Most of the research in any area of neurocognitive side effects of cancer treatments is based on relatively small studies that have methodological limitations. Basic questions and issues remain unanswered and unaddressed, including:
- The prevalence of long-term cognitive problems following any given treatment.
- Which chemotherapy agents, doses of cranial radiation, etc. are most likely to cause neurocognitive changes?
- What cognitive domains are most likely to be affected by which treatments?
- What are the most appropriate neuropsychological tests for studying neurocognitive side effects of cancer treatments?
Additionally, the bulk of the research has been conducted on highly educated, affluent, Caucasian samples (primarily women); therefore, little is known about neurocognitive side effects of cancer treatments across various racial and socioeconomic groups. Therefore, there is a critical need for large scale, longitudinal studies of treatment-induced cognitive changes that include appropriate neuropsychological test batteries and comparison groups, and utilize appropriate statistical methods.
Memorial Sloan Kettering provides a unique environment for conducting these types of studies across various treatment types and cancer diagnoses. Excellent research in the areas of assessment and treatment of cognitive dysfunction in patients with brain tumors and CNS lymphoma (Denise Correa, PhD) and the evaluation of the cognitive impact of chemotherapy on elderly breast cancer patients is ongoing at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The Neurocognitive Research Laboratory, with Dr. Tim Ahles as Director, will support ongoing research in this area and expand the research into other areas as well.