Learning and memory performance in a cohort of clinically referred breast cancer survivors: the role of attention versus forgetting in patient-reported memory complaints

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Objective:While forgetfulness is widely reported by breast cancer survivors, studies documenting objective memory performance yield mixed, largely inconsistent, results. Failure to find consistent, objective memory issues may be due to the possibility that cancer survivors misattribute their experience of forgetfulness to primary memory issues rather than to difficulties in attention at the time of learning.Methods:To clarify potential attention issues, factor scores for Attention Span, Learning Efficiency, Delayed Memory, and Inaccurate Memory were analyzed for the California Verbal Learning Test-Second Edition (CVLT-II) in 64 clinically referred breast cancer survivors with self-reported cognitive complaints; item analysis was conducted to clarify specific contributors to observed effects, and contrasts between learning and recall trials were compared with normative data. Performance on broader cognitive domains is also reported.Results:The Attention Span factor, but not Learning Efficiency, Delayed Memory, or Inaccurate Memory factors, was significantly affected in this clinical sample. Contrasts between trials were consistent with normative data and did not indicate greater loss of information over time than in the normative sample.Conclusions:Results of this analysis suggest that attentional dysfunction may contribute to subjective and objective memory complaints in breast cancer survivors. These results are discussed in the context of broader cognitive effects following treatment for clinicians who may see cancer survivors for assessment. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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