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App ‘could transform the lives’ of breast cancer patients

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Research has shown how a digital therapeutic app (MyCognition PRO) is transforming the lives of women recovering from breast cancer.

The trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis and the treatment that it involves can have long-lasting effects on an individual and their family.

The shock of dealing with the diagnoses and the resultant radiotherapy and chemotherapy makes people feel anxious, isolated and self-reflective. These are behaviours that are controlled by their cognition.

However, despite up to 75% of breast cancer patients saying they experience cognitive decline during or after treatment, the impact of the illness on an individual’s cognitive health has largely been ignored – arguably due to the inability to measure or strengthen it.

Cognitive ability is an individual’s capacity to concentrate, learn new things and make decisions, and its decline has a profound effect on their mental health and quality of life, which in turn damages their chance to live their lives to the full, return to work and socialise with loved ones.

In a clinical trial at the University of Antwerp, between 2016 and 2020, experts investigated whether MyCognition, the web-based digital, cognitive therapeutic app is an effective approach to assess and improve cognitive decline, in combination with their standard of care for the rehabilitation of breast cancer.

A group of 46 self-selected patients aged between 18 and 71, who had complained of disturbing cognitive impairment, took part in the study. They downloaded the MyCognition app – which included the cognitive assessment, MyCQ, and its video game, AquaSnap, which they played at least three times a week for either six or three months.

Dr. Anne Bellens from the Oncology Department at the University of Antwerp says: “Cognitive impairment can persist for many years after an individual’s breast cancer diagnosis. Our study revealed the significant impact that using the MyCognition app can have on improving cognitive health in women recovering from breast cancer.

“The exact role of gaming in the process remains uncertain and this study is too small to make recommendations, but a larger study would help to confirm our preliminary results, which show that playing the game ‘AquaSnap’ every day had a beneficial effect on self-perception of cognitive complaints, as measured by the Cognitive Failure Questionnaire (CFQ).”

Cancer treatment-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) is extremely common and is often caused by the “inflammation” of systemic medication used in chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and is frequently known as ‘chemo brain’. 40% of patients say they experienced it after diagnosis, with 75% saying they experience cognitive decline after treatment and 60% after the completion of therapy. It can persist for months and even years.

Cognitive complaints measured by CFQ include forgetfulness and distraction, lack of confidence, and indecisiveness in everyday life situations, and are linked to vulnerability to stress and mental illness.

Self-reported benefits in those dimensions resulted, as a consequence of AquaSnap training suggesting the potential of the MyCognition digital therapeutic to make a change in patients with ‘chemo brain’, giving them back confidence in their life activities and social interactions, while decreasing their risk of mental illness.

Keiron Sparrowhawk, the neuroscientist who devised the MyCognition digital therapeutic app in 2013 commented: “These results are absolutely fantastic to hear.

Having a cancer diagnosis can be devastating but the impact on cognitive health is undoubtedly overlooked and seen as secondary to the impacts of stress and depression, whereas increasingly we see cognitive deficits as the cause of poor mental health.

However, by managing and enhancing cognition, you can in turn improve mental health and decrease stress and depression. That is exactly why the MyCognition app was created.

“The app targets five cognitive domains – attention, working memory, episodic memory, executive function and processing speed. Patients were challenged, using personalised training, to fulfil tasks as an underwater photographer in the AquaSnap game. The difficulty levels are personalised according to their cognition, as assessed by their initial MyCQ score, thus encouraging the individual to take on more challenging and complex tasks at a rate that provides the best outcome for them.”

While those who took part in the study remain anonymous, feedback from from them was very positive. One patient described it as feeling “like a game reset” where “I was able to ‘clean up’ my mind”.

Others focused on how it made them more self-aware and gave them confidence in themselves. They described it as creating “awareness of training memory and cognitive functions”, giving “insight in learning abilities which in turn creates peace of mind”, and raising “awareness about attention or the lack of it in daily life and how to train it.”

The NHS approved app, MyCognition has been hailed as “a true differentiator in the field” according to a report for The Gates Foundation, who reported MyCognition as a world-leading cognitive health company.

 

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