A home-based intervention designed to address cognitive impairment in cancer survivors led to significant improvements in perceived cognitive impairment, anxiety, stress, and quality of life, compared with usual care.

The intervention, a computerized neurocognitive learning program, “targets cognitive domains including visual precision, divided attention, working memory, field of view, and visual processing speed, which are frequently affected in patients with cancer,” wrote Victoria J. Bray, MD, of the University of Sydney, and coauthors.

Investigators evaluated the program in a randomized controlled trial of 242 adult cancer survivors. The majority were female (95%) and had been treated for breast cancer (89%). The mean time since completion of chemotherapy was 27 months (6-60 months).

The program used, Insight From Posit Science, involved four 40-minute sessions a week for 15 weeks.

At the end of the 15-week intervention, the 121 patients in the intervention group showed significantly less perceived cognitive impairment, according to the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Cognitive Function questionnaire, than the 121 patients in the standard care control group. This improvement persisted at the 6-month follow-up (J Clin Oncol. 2016 Oct 31. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2016.67.8201).

Participants in the intervention group also reported significantly better perceived cognitive abilities, and significantly less impact on their quality of life from cognitive impairment. They also reported having fewer comments from others on their cognitive impairment after the intervention finished, although this difference between the two groups disappeared by 6 months.

The authors saw no significant differences between the two groups in neuropsychological function during the follow-up; however, they stressed this result should be interpreted with caution because of missing data at both the 15-week and 6-month follow-up.

The intervention was also associated with significantly less anxiety, depression,and fatigue at the end of the 15-week period but not at the 6-month follow-up. Participants did show significant improvements in perceived stress at both follow-up points, compared with those in the control group.

Overall, only 27% of participants finished the program in the recommended 15-week time frame, and 14% never started the program.

The authors said there was a large unmet need for effective treatment options for cancer survivors experiencing cognitive symptoms after cancer treatment, even though previous research had suggested that cognitive rehabilitation strategies were feasible.

“Our large RCT [randomized controlled trial] adds weight to this evidence, confirming that the use of Insight led to an improvement in cognitive symptoms,” they wrote, pointing out the advantage of this relatively inexpensive, home-based treatment approach. “The program has the potential to provide a new treatment option for patients with cancer with cognitive symptoms, where previously none existed.”