Objectives: This study tested 2 hypotheses: (1) chemotherapy increases the rate of cognitive decline in breast and colorectal cancer patients beyond what is typical of normal aging and (2) chemotherapy results in systematic cognitive declines when compared with breast and colorectal cancer patients who did not receive chemotherapy.
Subjects: Data came from personal interviews with a prospective cohort of patients with breast (n=141) or colorectal cancer (n=224) with incident disease drawn from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (1998–2006) with linked Medicare claims.
Measures: The 27-point modified Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status was used to assess cognitive functioning, focusing on memory and attention. We defined the smallest clinically significant change as 0.4 points per year.
Results: We used Bayesian hierarchical linear models to test the hypotheses, adjusting for multiple possible confounders. Eighty-eight patients were treated with chemotherapy; 277 were not. The mean age at diagnosis was 75.5. Patients were followed for a median of 3.1 years after diagnosis, with a range of 0 to 8.3 years. We found no differences in the rates of cognitive decline before and after diagnosis for patients who received chemotherapy in adjusted models (P=0.86, one-sided 95% posterior intervals lower bound: 0.09 worse after chemotherapy), where patients served as their own controls. Moreover, the rate of cognitive decline after diagnosis did not differ between patients who had chemotherapy and those who did not (P=0.84, one-sided 95% posterior intervals lower bound: 0.11 worse for chemotherapy group in adjusted model).
Conclusions: There was no evidence of cognitive decline associated with chemotherapy in this sample of older adults with breast and colorectal cancer.