Cancer impacts physical and mental health in elderly

cancer effects

Cancer impacts both our physical and mental health as we age, according to a new US study. 

The study suggests cancer increases the risk for a number of health issues above and beyond normal aging.

Physical activity and stress

The research team attributes this to two reasons - decreased levels of physical activity, and the high levels of stress associated with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

The American Cancer Society, which is behind the research, believes it’s important to understand the unique health impact certain types of cancer have on an aging society. 

Corinne Leach from the Atlanta-based society analysed cancer registry data linked to Medicare surveys. 

This included 921 people with a breast, colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer diagnosis who completed surveys in 1998 and 2001, and follow-up surveys two years later. 

These patients were matched to 4,605 controls without cancer.

Drops in everyday function

Those with a cancer diagnosis showed large drops in everyday activities and general physical function compared with controls.

The greatest change in health was for lung cancer patients.

Having a cancer diagnosis also increases the risk of depression but did not increase the likelihood of developing arthritis, incontinence (except for prostate cancer), or vision/hearing problems.

There was also no link between cancer and the severity of arthritis or foot neuropathy.

Actionable results

Dr Leach says the finding that physical functioning decreases in older cancer patients compared to those without the disease is important as it is actionable.

With this information, clinicians can prepare patients and families for the changes in functioning levels and provide interventions that preserve physical function to limit the declines for older cancer patients, she adds.

The study was published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.


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