September 4, 2009

Long-term Cancer Survivors Often Suffer from Lower-body Functional Limitations


Almost 60% of long-term cancer survivors suffer from lower-body functional limitation, but treating these patients for arthritis and low back pain could reduce these limitations and improve quality of life, according to the results of a study published in Cancer.[1]

Cancer can leave lasting long-term effects, including functional limitations—or an inability to perform a physical action or task in an efficient and expected way. Because more cancer patients are surviving longer, many are forced to cope with such limitations, which can be debilitating and ultimately lead to disability.

In a recent study, researchers examined the potential reasons for the increased prevalence of lower-body functional limitations among cancer survivors. The National Health Interview Survey is a household interview of approximately 40,000 households annually. The researchers used data from the survey from 2005 through 2007. They compared the prevalence of lower-body functional limitations between 2,143 long-term survivors of 11 cancer types with that of 72,618 controls (without cancer history).

The researchers defined a lower-body functional limitation as difficulty or inability to perform at least one of five activities:

  • Walking one-quarter of a mile
  • Walking up and down 10 steps without rest
  • Standing for two hours
  • Stooping, crouching, or kneeling
  • Lifting 10 pounds

They found that 57% of cancer survivors had a lower-body functional limitation compared with 26.6% of controls. The limitations varied by cancer type, ranging from 44.9% for lymphoma survivors to 88.8% for lung cancer survivors. Long-term survivors of breast, cervical, ovarian, lung, thyroid, and uterine cancer were more likely to report a lower-body functional limitation than controls. Long-term survivors of lymphoma, melanoma, and bladder, colorectal, or prostate cancer were equally likely to report lower-body functional limitations as the control group. The researchers found that differences in the prevalence of arthritis, lower back pain, and access to medical care explained the difference in prevalence of lower-body functional limitations between controls and long-term survivors of breast, cervical, ovarian, and uterine cancer.

The researchers concluded that long-term cancer survivors are at risk for lower-body functional limitations, but treating arthritis and lower back pain and increasing access to medical care could help reduce this risk and improve quality of life.


[1] Schootman M, Aft R, Jeffe DB. An evaluation of lower-body functional limitations among long-term survivors of 11 different types of cancers. Cancer [early online publication]. August 12, 2009.

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Tags: Uncategorized, UNM CC Features