Background: Subjective cognitive impairment can be a significant and prevalent problem for gynaecological cancer survivors. The aims of this study were to assess subjective cognitive functioning in gynaecological cancer survivors after primary cancer treatment, and to investigate the impact of cancer treatment on brain structural networks and its association with subjective cognitive impairment. Methods: This was a cross-sectional survey using a self-reported questionnaire by the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Cognitive Function (FACT-Cog) to assess subjective cognitive functioning, and applying DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) and graph theoretical analyses to investigate brain structural networks after primary cancer treatment. Results: A total of 158 patients with gynaecological cancer (mean age, 45.86 years) and 130 age-matched non-cancer controls (mean age, 44.55 years) were assessed. Patients reported significantly greater subjective cognitive functioning on the FACT-Cog total score and two subscales of perceived cognitive impairment and perceived cognitive ability (all p values <0.001). Compared with patients who had received surgery only and non-cancer controls, patients treated with chemotherapy indicated the most altered global brain structural networks, especially in one of properties of small-worldness (p = 0.004). Reduced small-worldness was significantly associated with a lower FACT-Cog total score (r = 0.412, p = 0.024). Increased characteristic path length was also significantly associated with more subjective cognitive impairment (r = -0.388, p = 0.034). Conclusion: When compared with non-cancer controls, a considerable proportion of gynaecological cancer survivors may exhibit subjective cognitive impairment. This study provides the first evidence of brain structural network alteration in gynaecological cancer patients at post-treatment, and offers novel insights regarding the possible neurobiological mechanism of cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) in gynaecological cancer patients. As primary cancer treatment can result in a more random organisation of structural brain networks, this may reduce brain functional specificity and segregation, and have implications for cognitive impairment. Future prospective and longitudinal studies are needed to build upon the study findings in order to assess potentially relevant clinical and psychosocial variables and brain network measures, so as to more accurately understand the specific risk factors related to subjective cognitive impairment in the gynaecological cancer population. Such knowledge could inform the development of appropriate treatment and rehabilitation efforts to ameliorate cognitive impairment in gynaecological cancer survivors.
- Brain networks
- Gynaecological cancer
- Subjective cognitive impairment
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research