Ask the professional: Neuro-psychological evaluation for survivors

Tests can show if cognitive skills have been affected by cancer or treatment

By Lauren Grossman, PsyD, neuropsychologist

What is a neuropsychological evaluation?

A neuropsychological evaluation uses a series of cognitive tests to assess how you think, learn and process information. It often examines skills in areas such as general intellectual ability, attention and concentration, executive functioning (i.e., skills needed in order to achieve a goal), language, memory, visual-motor skills, emotional and behavioral functioning and adaptive functioning. It is different from other evaluations because it looks at the process of how one gets to a response, not just the scores. It also helps uncover how cognitive skills may have been impacted by your medical condition and its treatments.

How do I know if I need a neuropsychological evaluation?

It would be important to consider a neuropsychological evaluation if you are having difficulties in any of the areas mentioned above, and these difficulties are impacting your ability to function. For example, most individuals experience forgetfulness from time to time, but if you are consistently forgetting things and this affects your ability to perform in school or at work, then you may want to consider a neuropsychological evaluation.

How can a neuropsychological evaluation help me?

A neuropsychological evaluation will help to identify areas of individual strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has things that they are better at and things they struggle with. By identifying these areas, we can discuss strategies that will help to alleviate your deficits and promote better functioning. Sometimes recommendations will include discussing various accommodations with your school, such as an Individualized Education Plan or Section 504 Accommodation Plan.

What type of screening is done in the Survivorship Clinic?

As part of the multidisciplinary long-term follow-up clinic, you will meet with the neuropsychologist to discuss any concerns you may have. He or she will conduct a brief interview to gather information about your background and administer a neurocognitive screen. This screen will focus largely on attention and concentration, information processing and memory. These areas are targeted since they are often considered the “late effects” of treatments.

Why is ongoing follow-up with the neuropsychologist important?

Although you may not be experiencing any difficulties at the present time, the term “late effects” is commonly used because the neurotoxic effects of treatments can occur many years after treatment. Currently, we don’t know how far past treatments these effects can set in. That makes annual monitoring in clinic very important to help identify any concerns before they impair daily life. If necessary, we will discuss a referral for a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation to be scheduled at a later date.