Emotional vulnerability and resilience in breast cancer

While medical advancements have enabled longer term survivorship in cancer, the cost of cancer treatment on brain structure and function has shown to increase cognitive and emotional vulnerability long into survivorship. Such vulnerability shows to have debilitating effects on survivors’ quality of life and well-being, affecting workability, self-esteem as well as every day functioning. This has been extensively investigated in breast cancer which is the biggest malignancy in women worldwide with every 10 minutes a woman in the UK being diagnosed. At the BRiC centre (Centre for building resilience in breast cancer) we have conducted research into building resilience through innovative online exercises training cognitive resilience through neuroplasticity induced change. Our results show that cognitive and emotional resilience can be empowered in women affected by breast cancer and anxiety levels reduced longer term into survivorship. We are currently collaborating with big charities such as Breast Cancer Care, Breast Cancer Now, Shine Bright Foundation, Shine Cancer Support, and Maggies Centres across the UK who are interested in partnering with BRiC and implementing our work in their nationwide courses.

Empowering women with breast cancer

BRiC has conducted a number of cutting-edge projects that have used neurocognitive training techniques to empower cognitive and emotional health in women with a history of breast cancer. Some of this work which is led by Jessica Swainston, Naz’s PhD student has shown that it is possible to reduce anxiety and depressive related symptoms for up to 18 months post intervention in women. The results of this large feasibility RCT were published last year in Psycho-oncology. The results were also publicised in many media channels.

Understanding how perceived cognitive deficiency can escalate emotional vulnerability in women with breast cancer and what risk factors can moderate this relationship.

In a study published in the journal Health Psychology Open, Bethany Chapman and her colleague Steffi Helmrath show the ways in which perceived cognitive functioning can influence perceived emotional vulnerability. They find that being younger and having a more aggressive cancer grade can influence this relationship.

Improving longer term work abilities in women with breast cancer

A large randomised control trial which is currently led by Bethany Chapman is aiming to improve the longer term work abilities of women with breast cancer using neurocognitive training. The training is expected to improve cognitive efficiency via neuroplasticity induced change as a function of training. Using high temporal resolution neuroimaging methods such as event related potentials, Bethany is examining how training can lead to sustainable improvements in brain functions over time.

Assessing the effectiveness of combined and independent psychological therapies for women with breast cancer

Led by Jessica Swainston, two training studies have looked at how women with breast cancer can benefit the most from therapies such as mindfulness, cognitive training and expressive writing –

Understanding how women with breast cancer tolerate the cognitive and emotional effects of Tamoxifen

Tamoxifen a drug taken by a large proportion of women with a history of breast cancer can help prevent recurrence. However, due to its estrogen depleting effects, women suffer marked cognitive and emotional side effects with substantial impairments to quality of life. Jessica Swainston has led a qualitative study examining the damaging effects of Tamoxifen on quality of life in breast cancer survivors.

The neural mechanisms of compensation in women with breast cancer

Due to the debilitating side effects of diagnosis and treatment on brain structures and functions involved in cognitive efficiency, an electrophysiological study looking at the ERN component of attention has discovered early compensatory mechanisms in women with breast cancer vs controls. This study which is led by Jessica Swainston reveals how the brain engages in compensatory mechanisms using event related potentials which are highly sensitive to moment by moment changes in the brain.