Accelerated Biological Aging from Breast Cancer Treatment May Lead to Cognitive Dysfunction


Study examines whether markers of biological aging due to cancer treatment are related to cognitive function in survivors of breast cancer.

Declining cognitive function in patients who had previously undergone breast cancer treatment may be associated with the aging-like effect of certain cancer treatments, according to a new study published in CANCER.

The researchers aimed to identify the relevance of indicators of biological aging to cognitive function in survivors of breast cancer.

Toxicities associated with cancer treatments can have long-term adverse effects on patients, increasing risks of persistent fatigue, pain, and cognitive dysfunction. Certain treatments can also contribute to accelerated biological aging due to its damaging effect on normal healthy cells in the body.

For the study, the authors evaluated 94 women aged 36 to 69 years who had been treated for early-stage breast cancer 3 to 6 years earlier. They examined indicators of biological aging, including elevated levels of DNA damage, reduced telomerase enzymatic activity, and shorter peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) telomere length, in relation to cognitive function.

According to the study’s findings, women previously treated for breast cancer who had both higher DNA damage and lower telomerase activity had lower executive function scores. Additionally, lower telomerase activity was linked to worse attention and motor speed scores, but telomerase length was not related to any of the neurocognitive domains.

Overall, the findings highlight a significant association between indicators of biological aging and cognitive performance in women who had been treated for breast cancer.

“These findings are important because they provide further information about what might be happening after cancer treatment that impacts cognitive decline in some individuals,” Judith E Carroll, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, said in a statement. “This information can inform future research and may lead to new interventions to prevent these cognitive declines.”


Cancer Treatments May Affect Cognitive Function By Accelerating Biological Aging [news release]. Wiley’s website. Accessed November 26, 2018.

Carroll JE, Van Dyk K, Bower JE. Cognitive performance in survivors of breast cancer and markers of biological aging. Cancer. 2018.

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