Impact of Chemotherapy on Short-Term Memory Development in Childhood Cancer Survivors

High concentrations of phosphorylated Tau predict the development of cognitive problems in cancer survivors later in life.

Children who undergo chemotherapy develop cognitive issues later in life.

In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the investigators examined 31 young adults who underwent chemotherapy as a child, with an average age of 6.5 years.

The investigators evaluated the childhood cancer survivors’ performance on several psychological tests and compared the results with the control group.

The results of the study showed a decrease in cognitive flexibility and a weaker short-term memory; however, the ability to concentrate and long-term memory were largely unaffected.

Reasons long-term memory and concentration were not affected is because these skills were already developed prior to treatment, but slow-developing functions become particularly vulnerable to chemotherapy, according to the study.

“Tests that require quick switching between tasks or remembering new information for a short amount of time were clearly more difficult for former cancer patients,” the investigators wrote. “The developmental stage of the brain at the start of the cancer treatment probably plays a decisive role.”

A link between cognitive performance and the levels of phosphorylated Tau (p-Tau) in the brain fluid was also observed.

“Our team collected samples of brain fluid during the cancer treatment,” said investigator Rudi D’Hooge. “We analyzed the p-Tau levels to measure the damage to the brain cells. We found that high concentrations of p-Tau predict cognitive problems at a later age.”

Investigator Iris Elens noted that by measuring p-Tau levels, it could help address this patient population.

“If we systematically measure these p-Tau levels in the future, we can offer specific help to children with high values,” Elens said. “With early coaching aimed at the most relevant functions we can prevent problems that would otherwise manifest 10 to 15 years after the treatment.”