Study Supports Link Between Inflammation, Cognitive Problems in Older Breast Cancer Survivors

Higher C-reactive protein levels have been linked to cognition problems among older breast cancer survivors.

A long-term study of older breast cancer survivors found that higher levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) is related to cognition problems among this population, according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“Blood tests for CRP are used routinely in the clinic to determine risk of heart disease. Our study suggests this common test for inflammation might also be an indicator of risk for cognitive problems reported by breast cancer survivors,” lead study author Judith Carroll, an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and faculty member of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA and the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a press release.

The Thinking and Living with Cancer (TLC) Study is among the first long-term efforts to analyze a potential link between chronic inflammation and cognition among breast cancer survivors 60 years of age and older. The study authors noted that previous research was mainly focused on younger women and patients immediately after therapy, which made it difficult to draw conclusions about the link between CRP and long-term cognitive problems among older breast cancer survivors.

TLC analyzed blood samples from hundreds of breast cancer survivors and women without cancer up to 6 times over the course of 5 years. The study was inspired from multiple survivors and advocates who shared that cognitive problems are a major concern after breast cancer diagnosis.

“Cognitive issues affect women’s daily lives years after completing treatment, and their reports of their own ability to complete tasks and remember things was the strongest indicator of problems in this study,” said co-senior study author and lead of the TLC study, Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, a professor of oncology at Georgetown University, in a press release.

Cognition was evaluated through a commonly used questionnaire assessing how the women perceive their ability to remember things such as their names and direction, ability to concentrate, and other aspects of daily life. The study showed higher CRP levels among survivors were predictive of lower reported cognitive function. Further, there was no similar relationship between CRP levels and reported cognition in the women without cancer.

After being measured by standardized neuropsychological tests, cognitive performance failed to show a link between CRP and cognition. The study authors noted that this may suggest that women are more sensitive to differences in their daily cognitive function, self-reporting changes that other tests miss.

Future research is needed on whether interventions, such as increased physical activity, better sleep, and anti-inflammatory medications, can prevent or reduce cognitive concerns in older breast cancer survivors.


Long-term study supports link between inflammation and cognitive problems in older breast cancer survivors. UCLA Health. September 30, 2022. Accessed October 5, 2022.