Processing efficiency in pediatric cancer survivors: A review and operationalization for outcomes research and clinical utility

Academic Article


  • Objective: Childhood cancer and cancer-related treatments disrupt brain development and maturation, placing survivors at risk for cognitive late effects. Given that assessment tools vary widely across researchers and clinicians, it has been daunting to identify distinct patterns in outcomes across diverse cancer types and to implement systematic neurocognitive screening tools. This review aims to operationalize processing efficiency skill impairment—or inefficient neural processing as measured by working memory and processing speed abilities—as a worthwhile avenue for continued study within the context of childhood cancer. Methods: A comprehensive literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on cognitive late effects and biopsychosocial risk factors in order to conceptualize processing efficiency skill trends in childhood cancer survivors. Results: While a frequently reported pattern of neurobiological (white matter) and cognitive (working memory and processing speed) disruption is consistent with processing efficiency skill impairment, these weaknesses have not yet been fully operationalized in this population. We offer a theoretical model that highlights the impacts of a host of biological and environmental factors on the underlying neurobiological substrates of cancer survivors that precede and may even predict long-term cognitive outcomes and functional abilities following treatment. Conclusion: The unified construct of processing efficiency may be useful in assessing and communicating neurocognitive skills in both outcomes research and clinical practice. Deficits in processing efficiency may serve as a possible indicator of cognitive late effects and functional outcomes due to the unique relationship between processing efficiency skills and neurobiological disruption following cancer treatment. Continued research along these lines is crucial for advancing childhood cancer outcomes research and improving quality of life for survivors.
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    Author List

  • Trapani JA; Murdaugh DL
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 12