Neurocognitive impact of cranial radiation in adults with cancer: an update of recent findings

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Purpose of review

Radiation to the brain is associated with adverse effects on cognition in cancer patients. Advances in technology have improved treatment efficacy, while new or adjuvant approaches continue to be developed. The long-term impact of both established and newer treatments on cognition is an active area of research.

Recent findings

The article reviews the 15 studies published between January 2015 and October 2016 that include data on neurocognitive functions following radiation to the brain in adults with brain metastases, primary brain tumors, or other cancers. These studies examine neurocognitive outcomes in relation to radiation treatment delivery, pharmacological interventions, and biomarkers of brain injury.


Advances in radiotherapy protocols have reduced neurotoxic side-effects. Implementation of standardized, validated neurocognitive measures and biomarkers of brain injury provide new insights into the impact of cranial radiation on cognitive functions. Several promising new lines of research will benefit from further study to address common challenges in the field, including high rates of attrition in longitudinal trials, absence of control groups, small sample sizes, and heterogeneous patient groups.

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