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Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology: Sanne Schagen


Sanne Schagen, Ph.D.Group leader

About Sanne Schagen

Cognitive functioning in cancer patients

Patients with central nervous system malignancies almost universally experience cognitive dysfunction during their disease course. In recent years it has become clear that patients without central nervous disease may also be confronted with cognitive and brain changes. The vast majority of the work in this area has occurred in the context of breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, while there is fair body of evidence linking a much wider spectrum of chemotherapeutic regimens for a variety of cancers to cognitive changes.

In our current projects we focus on the investigation of the incidence, trajectory, cause and risk of cognitive changes associated with chemotherapy in different groups of non-CNS patients. We conduct clinical and preclinical studies and apply advanced human neuroimaging techniques to further understand the biological basis of cognitive changes, and to form starting points for preventive and therapeutic pharmacological studies. Meanwhile our efforts are also directed at helping patients who at present struggle with cognitive difficulties that negatively affect their daily life and work ability by using behavior interventions for which effectiveness has already been demonstrated outside the oncology setting. 

In our upcoming generation of studies, we will pay attention to increase our understanding of the occurrence, etiology and meaning of endocrine therapy-associated cognitive changes. Much less research has been done, in this area while manipulations in humans and animal models indicate that hormones affect cognition. Finally, very little is known about possible cognitive consequences of many new targeted agents and immunotherapies. Assessing their independent impact on cognitive function as well as their influence when combined with other cancer treatments will be an important task for our group in the near future.

In neuro-oncology patients our current work is directed into the effects of cranial radiation on the brain, because with prolonged survival for subgroups of primary and secondary brain tumor patients, we are increasingly facing late radiation induced CNS damage. This stresses the need to identify groups at risk and to develop interventions to reduce cognitive decline associated with this treatment modality.


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Dr. Michiel de Ruiter

Senior postdoctoral fellow


My research focus is on side effects of cancer treatment on cognitive functioning and the brain. My background is in cognitive neuroscience (PhD University of Amsterdam in 2005). I was a research fellow for KWF working in labs in Oxford, Cologne and Dresden. I received a KWF grant on MRI predictors of cognitive problems in breast cancer patients that I now work on. I also co-supervise PhD neuroimaging projects in testicular and breast cancer patients. Finally, I supervise and conduct multicenter neuroimaging studies that are part of trials on cognitive side effects of prophylactic cranial irradiation in lung cancer patients.

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Willik, Kimberly van der

Kimberly van der Willik

PhD Student


In 2010 I started studying Medicine at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. During my second year I was taught about oncology. The impact and challenges of this disease intrigued me. Since then I developed a great ambition working in this field.

After I obtained my medical degree in 2016, I was pleased to start working as a PhD project at the NKI and Erasmus MC. In this project we are looking at the cognitive functions prior to cancer diagnosis and in cancer survivors, trying to identify trajectories of cognitive decline in cancer patients.

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Joost Agelink van Rentergem



My research is on statistical models of neuropsychological tests that are used to study cognitive functioning after cancer and cancer treatment. In interpreting test scores, results are typically simplified, because recording and processing data is difficult to do with paper-and-pencil tests. The Amsterdam Cognition Scan, as an online computer-based test, allows for a much more in-depth analysis of a patient's responses. Using data from this system, I am working to extract more information from neuropsychological tests to build models of cognition, to aid in better characterization of the strengths and weaknesses in patients' cognitive functioning after cancer and cancer treatment.

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Wendy Jacobs, MSc

Ph.D. Student


I studied Communication Science at the VU University inAmsterdamand also graduated in Child Development and Education (Orthopedagogiek) at theUniversityofAmsterdam. Further, I completed several courses of the Bachelor Communication and Information Science at the VU University.

In my PhD project I focus on health communication and I study how to inform patients best on cancer treatment and side effects of treatment. My goal is to combine insights from language studies, psychology and communication science in trying to improve patient communication. 

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Marianne Kuenen

Research Assistant


I graduated as a Dietitian at the Academy Dietetiek inNijmegen. After nine years of clinical experience I had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant at the Division of Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology where I followed several courses.

My current work consists of conducting neuropsychological tests and collecting and management of data.

I am involved in some Scientific studies like: P09PCI study, HOVON105, M12PHA study, Skinlast study, TIME-trial and scientific research on cognitive function after treatment of cancer.

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Klaver, Kete

Kete Klaver



Psychological functioning and behaviour have always interested me and the role of the brain in this matter is fascinating.  My studies in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Amsterdam gave me the opportunity to learn about cognition and the brain. Since September 2017, I am happy to be part of the department Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. During my 4-year engagement as a PhD student, my project group and I will develop and test an e-health intervention for occupationally active cancer survivors dealing with cognitive impairment.

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Recent publications View All Publications

  • Is basic research providing answers if adjuvant anti-estrogen treatment of breast cancer can induce cognitive impairment?

    (2013) Life Sciences [Epub ahead of print].

    Buwalda B, Schagen SB.

    Link to Pubmed
  • Global and focal white matter integrity in breast cancer survivors 20 years after adjuvant chemotherapy

    (2012) Human Brain Mapping [Epub ahead of print].

    Koppelmans V, Groot MD, de Ruiter MB, Boogerd W, Seynaeve C, Vernooij MW, Niessen WJ, Schagen SB, Breteler MM.

    Link to Pubmed


  • Office manager

    Karin Roede & Danielle Groenewegen

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    0031 20 512 2480



'Research for the benefit of cancer patients'

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