By Brittany Shoot
November 26, 2018

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that some cancer patients can experience cognitive decline after chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

It’s commonly thought that cancer treatments may accelerate biological aging in cells. Specifically seen in this new UCLA study is evidence that common cancer therapies including chemotherapy and radiation may be linked to DNA damage and lower telomerase activity, telomeres being the enzymes that help maintain the health of cells. That’s especially true compared to women who had surgery but no other treatment for their cancers.

UCLA researchers surveyed 94 breast cancer survivors ages 36 to 69, all of whom had completed anywhere from three to six years of breast cancer treatments including either or both chemo and radiation. Researchers also examined the participants’ DNA damage and telomerase activity, then compared those results with participants’ cognitive function to reach the conclusions found in the study.

“Together this research provides preliminary evidence that the cancer treatments can leave a lasting imprint on some individuals,” said Judith Carroll, the study’s lead author, an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, and a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our hope is that future research will target these biological aging pathways to prevent the cognitive declines experienced by some cancer survivors.”

The builds on a previous study by the same UCLA researchers—and including the same 94 breast cancer survivors—which examined the relationship between breast cancer treatments and the cellular markers of aging.

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