The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)

Brain training aid to recovery from breast cancer


Simple brain-training exercises carried out at home have been shown to reduce emotional vulnerabil­ity in female breast cancer survivors, according to new research.

Academics at Birkbeck, University of London, said their findings could have huge implicatio­ns for other people suffering from chronic conditions and cancers that affect cognitive function and emotional well-being.

Advances in medical treatment mean breast cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years, with 78% of women surviving for 10 years or more, according to Cancer Research UK.

But the psychologi­cal cost of the illness and the physical and mental impact of surgery, chemothera­py and radiothera­py can have a lasting effect.

Many women suffer symptoms of posttrauma­tic stress, anxiety and depression following treatment, and the fear of the cancer reoccurrin­g can have a major impact.

The Birkbeck study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, looked at how cognitive training could help women suffering in this way. It compared anxious and depressive symptoms in two groups of women who had undergone breast cancer treatment, after they undertook different cognitive-training tasks over 12 days.

The study showed a significan­t 16% reduction in anxiety and distress-related symptoms in the experiment­al group when compared to the control group.

Similarly, training reduced “rumination” by 14% compared to the control group – a causal factor for depression which includes a tendency to get stuck in

“We can pave the way towards resilience and cognitive flexibilit­y”

cycles of negative thinking. The study, led by Nazanin Derakhshan, said: “Advances in cognitive and affective neuroscien­ce indicate that by building new neural connection­s, we can pave the way towards resilience and cognitive flexibilit­y, improving neural efficiency.”

Jessica Swainston, Prof Derakhshan’s PhD student who conducted the study, said: “This research has huge implicatio­ns for not only improving cognitive flexibilit­y in breast cancer but also other chronic conditions and cancers that affect cognitive function and emotional well-being.”

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