Clinical Oncology/Epidemiology

What do cancer patients mean when they complain of concentration and memory problems?


Cognitive function items are increasingly included in quality of life measures, and complaints of concentration and memory difficulties are often reported by cancer patients. The aim of this study was to examine the factors influencing patients' level of complaint by comparing subjective reports with objective test performance of a sample of adult lymphoma patients, disease-free and > or = 6 months after treatment. There was no significant difference between complainers and non-complainers in sociodemographic or clinical characteristics or in their performance on standard neuropsychometric tests of concentration and memory. Those reporting concentration and memory difficulties had significantly higher scores on measures of anxiety, depression and fatigue. This calls into question the validity of including cognitive function items in self-report quality of life measures. Patients who report concentration and memory difficulties should be screened for clinically significant and potentially remediable mood disorder. Objective testing remains the method of choice for assessing higher mental function.

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Cull, A., Hay, C., Love, S. et al. What do cancer patients mean when they complain of concentration and memory problems?. Br J Cancer 74, 1674–1679 (1996).

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