Brain game websites such as Lumosity could help cancer patients who have had chemotherapy fight off its negative effects.

According to a new study, women whose breast cancer had been treated with chemotherapy showed improved executive function, such as cognitive flexibility, verbal fluency, and processing speed after using Lumosity, the leading online cognitive training program. These improvements also transferred over to the women's everyday executive function and verbal memory.

The researchers split 41 breast cancer survivors into two groups: an active treatment group, which had 21 people, and a 12-week wait-list group, which had 20 people. All participants had a history of breast cancer stages I-III, were at least 40 years old, and were at least 18 months post-chemotherapy in order to allow for neural stabilization.

For 12 weeks, the participants completed a 20-30 minute session of five exercises, four times each week. The exercises included tasks such as switching, mental rotation, working memory, spatial sequencing, word stem completion, route planning, and rule-based puzzle solving. Participants completed a pre-test at the beginning of the program and a post-test at the end of the 12 weeks using psychometrically validated and standardized cognitive tests.

The results showed significantly larger gains in executive function, word finding, and processing speed; a progressive improvement in verbal memory, and a reduction in self-rated symptoms of everyday function problems for the active treatment group when compared to the waitlist group, who had no training at all.

Chemotherapy has been shown to change the brain's structure and impair brain function, including a person's memory, processing speed and attention. Up to 75 percent of women who have undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer experienced long-term cognitive deficits that reduced their quality of life

"The most common quality-of-life complaint from breast cancer survivors is the cognitive effect of cancer treatments," Joe Hardy, Vice President of Research & Development at Lumosity, said in a press release. "These results are interesting because they suggest that online cognitive training shows promise as an intervention for cognitive difficulties in breast cancer survivors, and even long-term survivors can benefit."

The study, led by Dr. Shelli Kesler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, will appear in the May online edition of Clinical Breast Cancer.

Lumosity's research program, the Human Cognition Project, supports both experimental research, in which researchers design and conduct studies on the effects of computerized cognitive training, and observational research, where collaborators explore data from Lumosity's database.

"We're committed to helping people from all walks of life improve their core cognitive abilities, and we're excited that this study has shown very promising results for real-world clinical application of cognitive training for cancer survivors," Hardy said.

Source: Kesler S., Hosseini S.M.H., Heckler C., Janelsins M., Palesh O., Mustian K., Morrow G. Cognitive Training for Improving Executive Function in Chemotherapy-Treated Breast Cancer Survivors. Clinical Breast Cancer. May 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.