IU research finds memory, thought-process training promising options for breast cancer symptom management

INDIANAPOLIS -- (October 01, 2012) -- A new Indiana University study is the first of its kind to show it may be possible to improve memory and thought process speed among breast cancer survivors.

Diane M. Von Ah, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor at the IU School of Nursing and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and colleagues studied two different treatment options for breast cancer survivors because they often report problems with memory or feelings of mental slowness, which can lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue and an overall poorer quality of life. These symptoms can be severe and may persist after cancer treatment ends. To date, there have been very few treatment options available for patients to deal with these problems. The IU researchers compared no treatment to two different training programs.         

The results, recently published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, showed that a memory training program improved memory performance, while a program called Insight, developed by Posit Science, improved both memory performance and the ability and speed in which the survivors processed information.

Memory training, for example, involved teaching participants strategies for remembering word lists, sequences and text material.

Insight is a computer program in which study participants followed a series of progressively more difficult information tasks.

“These results are encouraging in that both training programs led to positive improvements for breast cancer survivors. The results suggest that the Insight program may have a greater impact on these women,” Dr. Von Ah said.  “Even though this was the largest cognitive training study in breast cancer survivors, we need to confirm our findings in a larger study.”

The study included 82 breast cancer survivors who reported concerns about their cognitive function, such as poor memory and mental slowness. All of the women had undergone chemotherapy. Each woman completed cognitive assessments prior to, immediately after, and two months after training.

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar Program, an American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant, the IU School of Nursing Center for Enhancing Quality of Life in Chronic Illness, and the Mary Margaret Walther Program of the Walther Cancer Institute.

Co-authors included the following IU Simon Cancer Center researchers: Janet S. Carpenter, Ph.D., R.N., and Michael Weaver, Ph.D., R.N., both of the IU School of Nursing; Andrew Saykin, Psy.D., Patrick Monahan, Ph.D., Bryan Schneider, M.D., Fred Unverzagt, Ph.D.,  and Jingwei Wu, M.S., of the IU School of Medicine; Menggang Yu, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin; George Rebok, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University; and Karlene Ball, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

About Posit Science

Posit Science is the leading provider of clinically proven brain fitness programs. Its exercises have been shown to significantly improve brain speed, attention, memory and numerous standard measures of quality of life in multiple studies published in more than 60 peer-reviewed articles in leading science and medical journals. Three public television documentaries as well as numerous stories on news programs, in national magazines, and in major newspapers have featured Posit Science’s work. The company’s science team is led by renowned neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich. Its exercises are available at www.BrainHQ.com.

About Indiana University School of Nursing

The Indiana University School of Nursing is one of the largest nursing schools in the nation. Ranked ninth among public schools for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, the school boasts a robust program of research focused on quality of life in chronic illness. A full 40 percent of Indiana’s nurses are IU School of Nursing alumni. Programs range from three undergraduate options, eight tracks in the master’s program, post-master’s options, a Ph.D. in nursing science, a D.N.P. and continuing education opportunities. U.S. News & World Report ranked the graduate programs 15th in its 2012 Best Graduate School rankings, with adult clinical nurse specialist ranked third. For more information on the IU School of Nursing, visit http://nursing.iupui.edu.

About Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center is an Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Health partnership. Located in Indianapolis, IU Simon Cancer Center serves as a regional and national referral center for state-of-the-art cancer treatment and is Indiana’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that provides patient care. The partnership between IU School of Medicine and IU Health is dedicated to establishing a state-wide health care delivery system that is supported by the scientific resources and clinical expertise of the medical school. For more information, visit www.cancer.iu.edu.