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04Feb 2016

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Sanne Schagen receives KWO prize 2016 with value of 2 million Euro

Dr. Sanne Schagen of the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) is one of the two awardees of the Koningin Wilhelmina Onderzoeksprijs (KWO prize) 2016. This is the most important award for cancer research in The Netherlands, issued by the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF Kankerbestrijding). The prize comes with a research grant of 2 million Euro. Schagen will use this to study the long term cognitive effects of cancer treatments.

Sanne Schagen KWF KWO Prijs

Schagen joined the NKI twenty years ago as a researcher and clinical neuropsychologist. Around the time of her graduation, it was discovered that cancer patients sometimes suffer from cognitive problems long after their treatment has been finished. This caught Schagen's attention, so she decided to join the research group of NKI psychologist Frits van Dam. Over the years, Schagen helped to develop a whole new field of research focused on cognitive problems after cancer treatment. Since 2008 she heads her own research group within the NKI division of Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology.

Memory and concentration problems

"In the past decades we discovered that a lot of cancer patients can develop cognitive problems, but the causes vary widely", says Schagen. "Most patients only suffer from these problems during the course their treatment. But a small group of patients still has problems with, for instance, their memory or concentration five or even ten years after their treatment."

Common examples

Schagen offers a few common examples: "Some people can no longer concentrate on their work as well as they used to, or they become forgetful. It also happens that people find it hard to keep track of multi-person conversations during meetings. Something else I often come across is that people find it hard to handle new technology; for instance figuring out how their new cell phone works. These things can lead to a lot of stress and frustration. People are happy to have left their disease behind them, and want to function normally again. But they don't always succeed in this, or it costs them a lot of mental energy."

Research goals

At the moment it is still very hard to predict which patients will develop long term cognitive problems after their cancer treatment. This is one of the things Schagen hopes to clear up with the grant of the KWO prize. She also wants to investigate how different cancer treatments influence the brain, or in other words, try to find the biological mechanism behind this phenomenon. Finally, she will also look for solutions, for instance in the form of drugs or interventions like memory training.

Improving quality of life

Schagen: "Because cancer treatments have improved so much during the past few decades, more and more cancer patients survive. Therefore there is now starting to become more attention for life after cancer. I am very grateful that the Dutch Cancer Society gives me this opportunity to investigate how we can further improve the quality of life of former cancer patients."

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