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Psychotherapy May Ease Chemo-Related Cognitive Dysfunction

Researchers suggest their approach could improve survivors’ quality of life

MONDAY, May 2, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might help cancer survivors manage the long-term cognitive dysfunction some experience after chemotherapy, according to research published online May 2 in Cancer.

The researchers developed a CBT program called Memory and Attention Adaptation Training to help cancer survivors prevent or manage cognitive dysfunction associated with chemotherapy. The study involved 47 breast cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy an average of four years earlier. Some were assigned to receive eight CBT sessions that lasted about 30 to 45 minutes each. The rest received supportive talk therapy sessions. For both groups, the sessions were conducted via videoconference to minimize patients’ travel time. Participants provided self-reports of cognitive symptoms and quality of life and also completed a brief telephone-based neuropsychological assessment. Participants were retested after completing all eight sessions and again two months later.

The researchers found that the CBT participants had gains in self-reported cognitive impairments and neuropsychological processing speed compared to those who received supportive therapy. They also reported much less anxiety about cognitive problems two months after their psychotherapy ended.

“This is what we believe is the first randomized study with an active control condition that demonstrates improvement in cognitive symptoms in breast cancer survivors with long-term memory complaints,” study leader Robert Ferguson, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said in a journal news release. “Participants reported reduced anxiety and high satisfaction with this cognitive-behavioral, non-drug approach.” Also, because treatment was delivered via videoconference device, he said the study demonstrates it’s possible “to improve access to survivorship care.”

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