Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis



Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors, Honors College

First Advisor

Julie Dumas, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Alison Brody, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Laura Hill, Ph.D.


Breast cancer, cancer treatment, brain, women, aging.


Breast cancer is a common form of cancer that is increasing in its diagnosis among women in the last few decades. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy are approved forms of treatment for breast cancer that have been shown to cause improvements in long term cancer survival (eg. Hutchinson et al. 2012). However, many cancer survivors report adverse effects of the cancer treatment on their memory and thinking. The research literature shows that despite the improving survival rate, cancer and cancer treatment have detrimental effects on survivors’ brain function. For instance, studies have shown that cancer treatment can cause changes attentional processing, and executive functioning. On the other hand, normal aging also has an adverse effect on brain function. In this study, I examined how age and time since cancer treatment influenced the function and structure of the brain. The main goal of this study was to examine the short and long term effects of cancer treatment on brain structure and function in older women. Twelve women completed one study day. Two groups of cancer survivors who were on average 71.75 years old were examined. One group of women was about two years since the end of their cancer treatment. The other group of women was around 10 years since the end of their cancer treatment. Participants were asked to complete memory tests, attention tests, mood questionnaires, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) session. Results showed greater brain activation in the 10 year survivor group during the working memory task as measured by fMRI. There was also a significant difference in the psychiatric assessment (Older Adult Self Report OASR) between the groups. The 10 year survivor group scored higher on the OASR which indicated having more critical problems such as irritability. Further research with a similar protocol and a larger sample is needed to fully understand the interaction of age and cancer treatment on the brain.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.