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Cognitive training improves executive function in breast cancer survivors

Women whose breast cancer had been treated with chemotherapy demonstrated improved executive function, such as cognitive flexibility, verbal fluency and processing speed after using exercises developed by Lumosity, the leading online cognitive training program. The study also found significant improvement in self-reported measures of everyday executive function and observed some transfer to verbal memory. Researchers at Stanford University published the results in the peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Breast Cancer. Dr. Shelli Kesler, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University is the lead author of the study.

Studies have found that chemotherapy causes changes in brain structure and function. The most common effects of the cognitive impairment associated with cancer treatment include memory, processing speed and attention. Up to 75 percent of women who have undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment experience long-term cognitive deficits that significantly reduce quality of life.

"The most common quality-of-life complaint from breast cancer survivors is the cognitive effect of cancer treatments," said Joe Hardy, Ph.D, VP of Research & Development at Lumosity. "These results are interesting because they suggest that online cognitive training shows promise as an intervention for cognitive difficulties in breast cancer survivors, and even long-term survivors can benefit."

The study included 41 breast cancer survivors who were randomly assigned to the active treatment group (n=21) and a 12-week waitlist (n= 20). Study participants had a history of stages 1-3 breast cancer and treatment, a minimum age of 40, and were at least 18 months post-chemotherapy to allow for neural stabilization. They completed a session of five exercises four times a week for 12 weeks, with each session lasting about 20-30 minutes. Training tasks included switching, mental rotation, working memory, spatial sequencing, word stem completion, route planning and rule-based puzzle solving tasks available on

The effects of the Lumosity training program were measured by conducting a pre-test before and a post-test after completion of the training program using psychometrically validated and standardized cognitive tests. The active treatment group experienced significantly larger gains on measures of executive function, word finding and processing speed, and a trending improvement on verbal memory, compared to the waitlist control group. The active group also showed reduced self-rated symptoms of everyday executive function problems.

The study is in press in the May online edition of Clinical Breast Cancer and will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal. Study authors do not have any financial relationship or other conflicts of interest with Lumosity.

"We're committed to helping people from all walks of life improve their core cognitive abilities, and we're excited that this study has shown very promising results for a real-world clinical application of cognitive training for cancer survivors," said Hardy. "We've created Lumosity to be an accessible tool for anyone who wants to train their brain, as well as researchers who want to study the effects of cognitive training on specific populations."

Lumosity's research program, the Human Cognition Project, works with researchers worldwide to study human cognitive performance. The technology supports both experimental research, where independent researchers design and conduct studies on the effects of computerized cognitive training, and observational research, where collaborators explore data from Lumosity's database of 40 million people.


Contact: Erica Perng

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