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The Effect of EEG Biofeedback on Reducing Postcancer Cognitive Impairment

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The Effect of EEG Biofeedback on Reducing Postcancer Cognitive Impairment

Integrative Cancer Therapy published article, 12 April 2013.

by Jean Alvarez, Fremonta L. Meyer, David L. Granoff and Allan Lundy


Background and hypotheses.

Postcancer cognitive impairment (PCCI) is observed in a substantial number of breast cancer survivors, persisting for as long as 20 years in some subgroups. Although compensatory strategies are frequently suggested, no restorative interventions have yet been identified. This study examined the feasibility of EEG biofeedback (“neurofeedback”) and its potential effectiveness in reducing PCCI as well as the fatigue, sleep disturbance, and psychological symptoms that frequently accompany PCCI. Study design. This was a 6-month prospective study with a waitlist control period followed by an active intervention. Participants were female breast cancer survivors (n = 23), 6 to 60 months postchemotherapy, with self-reported cognitive impairment. Methods. Four self-report outcome measures (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–Cognitive Function [FACT-Cog], Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy–Fatigue [FACIT-Fatigue], Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI], and Brief Symptom Inventory [BSI]-18) were administered 3 times during a 10-week waitlist control period, 3 times during a 10-week (20-session) neurofeedback training regimen, and once at 4 weeks postneurofeedback. Results. All 23 participants completed the study, demonstrating the feasibility of EEG biofeedback in this population. Initially, the sample demonstrated significant dysfunction on all measures compared with general population norms. Repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed strongly significant improvements (P < .001) on all 4 cognitive measures (perceived cognitive impairment, comments from others, perceived cognitive abilities, and impact on quality of life [QOL]), the fatigue scale, and the 4 psychological scales (somatization, depression, anxiety and global severity index) as well as on 3 of 8 sleep scales (quality, daytime dysfunction, and global). Two of the other sleep scales (latency and disturbance) were significant at P < .01, and 1 (use of medication) at P < .05; 2 were not significant. Improvements were generally linear across the course of training, and were maintained at the follow-up testing. At the follow-up testing, the sample no longer differed significantly from normative populations on 3 of the 4 FACT-Cog measures (impairment, impact on QOL, and comments), FACIT-Fatigue, PSQI sleep quality and habitual efficiency, or any of the BSI-18 measures of psychological disturbance. Conclusions. Data from this limited study suggest that EEG biofeedback has potential for reducing the negative cognitive and emotional sequelae of cancer treatment as well as improving fatigue and sleep patterns.


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Neurofeedback helps relieve chemo brain symptoms

By Angela Townsend,

Chemotherapy can save a cancer patient’s life. But those who have struggled with chemo brain — if they even know its name — can testify to the frustration of not being able to complete the simplest tasks.

Social psychologist Jean Alvarez, a breast cancer survivor, struggled with the condition for years. In 2007, the Lakewood resident turned to neurofeedback when nothing else seemed to help her get rid of the two symptoms she said were “left over” from chemotherapy treatment that ended years earlier.

Electroencephalogram, or EEG, biofeedback, otherwise known as neurofeedback, is a noninvasive treatment that provides information on and measures changes in a person’s brain-wave activity. The brain “self-corrects” by using the feedback to reorganize.

Traditional neurofeedback pinpoints a specific area of the brain in need of correction. But no one knows what the electrical “signature” of chemo brain is, so Alvarez used another type of neurofeedback equipment that addresses the brain as an integrated system, making the specific location of the problem less important.

Resistant to the suggestion of her physician at the time to undergo neuropsychological testing, Alvarez instead decided to pursue neurofeedback after revisiting something she had previously read about the technique.

Not only did Alvarez find relief, but after 10 treatments, she felt as good as she had before she began chemotherapy. That led her to design a research study to see if her success could be replicated. She hoped to provide relief to others more quickly than if they waited for symptoms to dissipate on their own, months or years later.

The small study looked at the impact of neurofeedback on lessening post-cancer cognitive impairment, or PCCI.

Her study was published online April 12 in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies.

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