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Long-term cognitive dysfunction after radiation therapy for primary brain tumors

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Background: The extent of radiation therapy (RT)-induced changes in cognitive function is unknown. RT with protons instead of photons spares the healthy brain tissue more and is believed to reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction. There is modest knowledge on which parts of the brain we need to spare, to prevent cognitive dysfunction. To uncover which cognitive domains is most affected, we compared cognitive functioning in brain tumor patients treated with neurosurgery and RT with brain tumor patients treated with neurosurgery alone. Methods: A cross-sectional study assessing cognitive function in 110 patients with a primary brain tumor grades I-III or medulloblastoma (grade IV) treated at Aarhus University Hospital (AUH), Denmark between 2006 and 2016. Two cohorts were established: a cohort of 81 brain tumor patients who had received neurosurgery followed by RT (RT+), and a cohort of 29 brain tumor patients who had only received neurosurgery (RT-). The patients underwent questionnaires and neuropsychological assessment with standardized tests. Results: Mean age was 53.5 years with an average time since diagnosis of 7.3 years. Compared with normative data, lower average scores were observed for the entire group on domains concerning of verbal learning and memory ( p  < .001), attention and working memory ( p  < .001), processing speed ( p  < .001), and executive functioning ( p  < .001). Compared to RT- patients, RT + patients scored lower on domains concerning processing speed ( p  = .04) and executive function ( p  = .05) and had higher impairment frequency on verbal fluency ( p  = .02) with 16% of patients exceeding 1.5 SD below normative data. Conclusions: Our results indicate that treatment, including RT, for a primary brain tumor may have negative long-term impact on cognitive function, especially on processing speed and executive function.

Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Oncologica
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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