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Effectiveness of Intraindividual Variability in Detecting Subtle Cognitive Performance Deficits in Breast Cancer Patients

  • Barbara Collins (a1) (a2) (a3), Gerard Widmann (a1) (a4) and Giorgio A. Tasca (a2) (a3)
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine if intraindividual variability would be more sensitive than speed or accuracy in detecting subtle cancer-related cognitive disturbance. Methods: Data were from a previous study in which 60 breast cancer (BC) patients underwent neuropsychological assessment before commencement of chemotherapy and again following each chemotherapy cycle. Sixty healthy controls were tested at equivalent intervals. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to compare the BC and control groups in terms of accuracy, mean reaction time, and intraindividual variability in reaction time on a computerized continuous performance test with three conditions: a simple reaction time task, a “1-back” task, and a “2-back” task. Results: An increase in accuracy and response speed over sessions was noted on some tasks in the sample as a whole but there were no differences in these parameters between the BC patients and the controls on any condition. There was a significant group difference in change in intraindividual variability across sessions (i.e., a “group × session interaction”), albeit only on the most complex “2-back” task. Intraindividual variability declined in the control group (i.e., consistency improved with practice) but this practice effect was significantly attenuated in the BC patients. There was no main effect of group on the “2-back” task. Conclusions: Results support our hypothesis that intraindividual variability is a more sensitive indicator of subtle cognitive disturbance than conventional speed or accuracy measures and may have potential in the assessment of mild cognitive impairment in patients with non-central nervous system cancers. (JINS, 2018, 24, 1–11)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Barbara Collins, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, 725 Parkdale Avenue, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1Y 4E9. E-mail:


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