Cancer Survivors Are More Likely Than Others to Walk Slowly or Have Difficulty Walking

Mobility problems among cancer survivors also linked to higher risk of death, a study published in the AACR Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention shows.

Cancer survivors are 42 percent more likely to report walking at the slowest pace compared to people who haven’t had a diagnosis of cancer and 24 percent more likely to walk very slowly or to be severely limited in mobility, according to a recent study. Mobility problems were also associated with a higher risk of death, said the study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). 

“Our findings suggest that functional health may be adversely affected by a broad range of cancer diagnoses and may be an important determinant for survival,” said Elizabeth Salerno, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who conducted the research at the National Cancer Institute.  “There is still much to be learned about these complex relationships, but our results highlight the potential importance of monitoring, and even targeting, ambulatory function after cancer for survival benefits, particularly in older cancer survivors.”

Salerno and colleagues examined data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study covering 30,403 cancer survivors and 202,732 individuals who had never been diagnosed with cancer. Lower ambulatory function was associated with several cancer types, and the strongest associations were observed for survivors of respiratory or oral cancers. 

Slower walking pace and mobility disability were also associated with increased risk for all-cause and cancer-specific mortality in cancer survivors after adjusting for demographics and cancer characteristics. Survivors who reported walking at the slowest pace had over 2-fold increased risk of both all-cause and cancer-specific mortality compared with survivors who reported a brisk walking pace. Similarly, survivors with mobility disability had 80 percent and 64 percent greater risk of all-cause and cancer-specific mortality, respectively. 

“Given that cancer survivors are living longer than ever, understanding how the diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of cancers may affect ambulatory function—a potentially modifiable risk factor—could lead to new treatment and rehabilitation strategies to improve the health of these patients,” Salerno explained.