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Attentional processes and their remediation in children treated for cancer: A literature review and the development of a therapeutic approach


It is now generally accepted that central nervous system treatments for childhood cancer can result in significant cognitive impairment, most commonly in the areas of attention/concentration. We review the literature on attentional and neurocognitive deficits in this population, and also efforts to remediate attentional deficits in other brain injured populations. It was our goal to develop an innovative, psychologically based outpatient rehabilitation program that would improve dysfunctional attentional processes and associated neuropsychological deficits. The characteristics of this program and a pilot study of its effectiveness are described. Participants were 31 off-therapy cancer survivors with documented attention deficits. Twenty-one completed the cognitive remediation program (CRP) and 10 served as comparisons. All participants completed a test of vigilance attention, 2 tests with an attentional component, and an arithmetic academic achievement measure. When the scores of the 2 groups were compared, the CRP group exhibited statistically significant improvement on all attentional measures. In contrast, the comparison group did not manifest any significant changes. Neither group demonstrated statistically significant changes on the arithmetic achievement test. We believe that the CRP has potential for improving attention/concentration, but generalization to academic achievement remains unproven. Phase 3 clinical trials and the documentation of long-term treatment gains are needed. Furthermore, it will be necessary to demonstrate the ecological validity of the CRP. With these caveats, this therapeutic approach may be helpful in other populations of cognitively impaired children and young adults, such as patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury. (JINS, 2002, 8, 115–124.)

Corresponding author
Reprint requests to: Robert W. Butler, Ph.D., Oregon Health Sciences University, Department of Pediatrics,CDRCP, Division of Hematology/Oncology, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97201-3098. E-mail:
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