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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cognitive performance in survivors of breast cancer and markers of biological aging.

  • Author(s): Carroll, Judith E
  • Van Dyk, Kathleen
  • Bower, Julienne E
  • Scuric, Zorica
  • Petersen, Laura
  • Schiestl, Robert
  • Irwin, Michael R
  • Ganz, Patricia A
  • et al.


Biological aging pathways accelerated by cancer treatments may be a mechanism for cognitive impairment in cancer survivors. The goal of the current study was to examine whether indicators of biological aging, namely elevated levels of DNA damage, reduced telomerase enzymatic activity, and shorter peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) telomere length (TL) would be related to cognitive function in a cohort of survivors of breast cancer.


The authors evaluated a cross-sectional sample of 94 women aged 36 to 69 years who were treated for early-stage breast cancer 3 to 6 years previously. Leukocyte DNA damage, PBMC telomerase enzymatic activity, PBMC TL, and the inflammatory marker soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor II (sTNF-RII) were determined from blood samples. Cognitive function was assessed using a neuropsychological test battery and self-report. Linear regression models examined the relationship between biological aging predictors and cognitive outcomes.


Both higher DNA damage and lower telomerase were found to be statistically significantly related to lower executive function scores adjusting for age, body mass index, race, years from treatment, and intelligence score (standardized coefficients [B], -0.23 and 0.30; all P values <.05). In addition, lower telomerase activity was associated with worse attention and motor speed scores (B values, 0.30 and 0.24; P <.05). sTNF-RII and TL were found to be unrelated to any of the neurocognitive domains.


The results of the current study suggest a significant association between measures of biological aging and objective measures of cognitive performance in survivors of breast cancer. Future prospective studies are needed to confirm a causal role of biological aging as a driver of declines in cognitive function after cancer treatment.

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