UA Pediatric Researcher will Explore Cognitive Problems in Pediatric Cancer Survivors

UA Pediatric Researcher will Explore Cognitive Problems in Pediatric Cancer Survivors
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), brain tumors and lymphoma are the most common types of childhood cancer. Although survival rates have increased dramatically over the past few years, these cancers and their treatments have been linked with long-term difficulties in cognitive and academic function.
To explore this problem, Marissa Carey, PhD, an assistant research scientist with the Steele Children's Research Center in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, is conducting a study to investigate cognitive difficulties in pediatric cancer survivors.

The cognitive problems often reported in childhood cancer survivors have been compared to NVLD-Nonverbal Learning Disability-which is characterized by difficulties in arithmetic, reading comprehension and subject areas that require complex problem solving, as well as difficulties in social skills. NVLD is believed to result from central nervous system (CNS) white matter damage or disease. Among children with cancer who receive CNS treatment, white matter damage can occur as a result of radiation or chemotherapy.

"White matter plays a critical role in the communication between the cells of the brain," explains Dr. Carey. Acute white matter changes have been reported in children treated for leukemia and brain tumors, although the long-term effects on white matter development are unclear. To test the white matter model of CNS injury in children, white matter volumes will be gathered from structural magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain and will be correlated with tests of cognitive, academic and social function.

"This study will help us better understand how cancer and its treatment effects the brain of childhood CNS cancer survivors," says Dr. Carey. "It's important because it may help identify the underlying causes of cognitive, academic, and social problems in children following treatment for CNS cancer. If we can identify the underlying mechanisms involved, we can develop specific interventions for, and provide services to, children treated. Ultimately, we want to improve their quality of life."

The study is recruiting children between the ages of 6-18 who are survivors of ALL, lymphoma or brain tumor. Potential participants should be at least one year post-diagnosis. The study also seeks ALL, lymphoma or brain tumor survivors 18-30 years of age, diagnosed before the age of 21. Healthy children and young adults 6-30 years of age may also be eligible to participate as a healthy comparison group.

Participants will complete a four-hour neuropsychological evaluation (tests of thinking and learning skills), and a one-hour MRI examination of the brain. Participants will be compensated for their time.