Chemotherapy-Related Cognitive Decline is Detectable via the Attention Network Test

Erin Vandenbosch, “Chemotherapy-Related Cognitive Decline is Detectable via the Attention Network Test”
Mentor: Adam Greenberg, Psychology

Chemobrain, the cognitive decline associated with chemotherapy, is a common ailment in cancer patients; however, there is currently no accurate method for chemobrain diagnosis. We examined the effects of chemotherapy on cognition using self-report questionnaires, neuropsychological assessments, and a precise reaction time paradigm called the Attention Network Test (ANT). By employing a combination of measurements, we aimed to determine whether one form of assessment is more sensitive to the effects of chemobrain. We used four neuropsychological tests designed to measure working memory, sustained attention, processing speed, and executive functioning. The ANT quantifies three sub-processes of attentional control: alerting, orienting, and filtering distracters. Each patient was tested twice: once just prior to the beginning of their chemotherapy treatment, and a second time after chemotherapy treatment had ended. Our results showed that four out of our eight participants experienced changes in both distracter filtering and alerting from the pre-chemo timepoint to the post-chemo timepoint. These data are consistent with other studies comparing chemotherapy patients to control participants: either cancer patients without chemotherapy, or healthy volunteers. These four participants also exhibited increased levels of Perceived Cognitive Impairment, through the self-report questionnaire, from pre-chemo to post-chemo assessments. The correspondence between ANT and questionnaire data suggest that these four participants experienced symptoms of chemobrain following chemotherapy administration. Neuropsychological test results for these four participants showed no significant differences between pre- and post-chemo timepoints. Thus, neuropsychological testing, the most common form of assessment in clinical settings, may be an inferior means by which to accurately identify chemobrain symptoms. Furthermore, our ANT data suggest that chemobrain may stem from a selective deficit in attentional alerting and distracter filtering caused by targeted neurotoxicity of chemotherapy drugs used in battling cancer.


  1. Great presentation! I think this topic hits close to home for many people incluing myself. These results are very exciting, and I wonder how strong this effect is if you study a larger group of participants in the future. How long after the chemo session did the participant take these tests? Is it possible that some of the effects could have a lag time? Thanks for sharing your research!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.