Impact of Perceived Cognitive Impairment in Breast Cancer Survivors

PURPOSE: Cognitive impairment is commonly reported by breast cancer survivors, yet little is known regarding its impact on quality of life. The purpose of this study was to obtain a better understanding of breast cancer survivors' experiences of perceived cognitive impairment, its trajectory, and its impact on relationships, daily functioning, work and overall life satisfaction after breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

METHODS: The results are based on qualitative interviews with 22 breast cancer survivors who reported cognitive impairment and who were at least 1 year post-chemotherapy treatment. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using a content analysis approach.

RESULTS: Breast cancer survivors' primarily expressed concerns in 6 major domains including: short-term memory, long-term memory, speed of processing, attention and concentration, language and executive functioning. Concerns emerged as salient after treatment ended as other problems resolved. All of the survivors found these impairments frustrating, and some also reported these changes as detrimental to their self-confidence and social relationships. Employed survivors reported working harder to perform tasks and use of compensatory strategies to complete work tasks. Validation of perceived cognitive impairment by family, friends, and healthcare providers was perceived as important to adjustment.

CONCLUSIONS: Perceived cognitive deficits have broad implications for the well-being of breast cancer survivors. Study findings underscore the broad consequences of this symptom, provide direction for theory development, measurement selection, and additional intervention targets. A greater understanding of cognitive impairment in breast cancer survivors may lead to the development of effective treatment of this symptom.