Brain White Matter Microstructure as a Risk Factor for Cognitive Decline After Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer.



Low FA independently predicted cognitive decline early (6 months, P = .013) and late (3 years, P < .001) after chemotherapy. FA did not predict cognitive decline in the BC - CT and NC groups. Voxel-wise analysis indicated involvement of white matter tracts essential for cognitive functioning.


Neuropsychologic tests were administered before and 6 months (n = 49), 2 years (n = 32), and 3 years (n = 32) after chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer receiving anthracycline-based chemotherapy (BC + CT group), at matched intervals to patients with BC who did not receive systemic therapy (BC - CT group: n = 39, 23, and 19, respectively) and to no-cancer controls (NC group: n = 37, 29, and 28, respectively). Using multivariate normative comparison, we evaluated to what extent the cognitive profiles of patients deviated from those of controls. Fractional anisotropy (FA), derived from magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging, was used to measure white matter microstructure before treatment. FA was evaluated as a risk factor for cognitive decline, in addition to baseline age, fatigue, cognitive complaints, and premorbid intelligence quotient. We subsequently ran voxel-wise diffusion tensor imaging analyses to investigate white matter microstructure in specific nerve tracts.


Cognitive decline is frequently observed after chemotherapy. As chemotherapy is associated with changes in brain white matter microstructure, we investigated whether white matter microstructure before chemotherapy is a risk factor for cognitive decline after chemotherapy.


Low FA may reflect low white matter reserve. This may be a risk factor for cognitive decline after chemotherapy for BC. If validated in future trials, identification of patients with low white matter reserve could improve patient care, for example, by facilitating targeted, early interventions or even by influencing choices of patients and doctors for receiving chemotherapy.

More about this publication

Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • Volume 39
  • Issue nr. 35
  • Pages 3908-3917
  • Publication date 10-12-2021

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