Public Release: 

Cognitive deficits lead to 'loss of self' among cancer patients

New survey reveals the far-reaching implications of treatments

Hurricane Voices Breast Cancer Foundation


IMAGE: At least 50 percent of respondents rated their symptoms as moderate to severe in each of the categories. Additional areas of impact included the ability to learn and/or retain new... view more

Credit: © Hurricane Voices Breast Cancer Foundation

CONCORD, Mass. - For some cancer patients, side effects impacting cognition don't end with the last dose of chemotherapy.

According to a new survey, the cognitive impairment experienced by 14 to 45 percent of cancer patients can be long-lasting and severely affect their personal and professional lives. Patients report that the lack of concentration, short-term memory loss, difficulty with word recall and the inability to organize or multi-task have led to significant problems at home and in the workplace.

"One of the most poignant and striking findings from this study is that patients most severely affected no longer identify with the person they were prior to treatment," said Janet Colantuono, executive director of Hurricane Voices Breast Cancer Foundation, the nonprofit that conducted the survey. "Contributing to this 'loss of self' is the loss of credibility, respect of others, self esteem and employment."

In addition to exploring the impact on their personal and professional lives, the Cognitive Changes Related to Cancer Treatment survey also uncovered that 42 percent of the survey respondents describe their doctors as dismissive or indifferent when it came to addressing their concerns.

"This survey clearly demonstrates the serious ramifications that enduring cognitive impairment can have on cancer patients' lives," said Dr. Ian Tannock, a leading researcher in the area of cognition and cancer. "It also underscores an immediate need for education in the medical community to bridge the gap between patients' concern and oncologists' understanding of this issue."

Colantuono said she, too, expects the study to result in increased awareness among medical professionals so they can better assist patients struggling with cognitive impairments following treatment.

"Results of this survey enhance current scientific research - presenting a collective voice that illuminates the patient experience," adds Colantuono. "We anticipate that it will also help break through obstacles in the doctor/patient relationship."


Cognitive Changes Related to Cancer Treatment was conducted between January and May of 2007 with 471 participants responding. This group is comprised of both men and women who were diagnosed with an array of cancers, primarily breast cancer, but also ovarian, lung, colorectal and other cancers.

To view the executive summary, visit

About Hurricane Voices:

Hurricane Voices Breast Cancer Foundation, located in Concord, Mass., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising consciousness, inspiring activity and supporting research so future generations will not be threatened by breast cancer. Hurricane Voices also offers programs and resources aimed at providing support for children coping with parental cancer, such as the "When a Parent Has Cancer: Strengthening the School's Response" conference and the organization's Family Reading List. To learn about Hurricane Voices Breast Cancer Foundation, visit

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