Slow Walking Pace May Be Linked To Mortality in Cancer Survivors

A study observed a correlation between cancer diagnosis and poorer ambulatory function, including slow walking pace, which was ultimately tied to an increased mortality risk.

“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 Salerno. “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,” said first author Elizabeth Salerno, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in a press release.

Adults were identified from the National Institutes of Health-American Association of Retired Persons Diet and Health Study (1994-96). Participants reported their ambulatory function between 2004 and 2006 and were followed for mortality from the time of their reporting through 2011.

There were 233,135 total adults, of whom 30,403 were cancer survivors and 202,732 were cancer-free. When compared to the non-cancer controls, and when adjusting for baseline demographics, health indicators, and cancer type, cancer survivors were more likely to walk at the slowest pace (odds ratio [OR], 1.42) and have mobility disability (OR, 1.24). Cancer survivors with the slowest pace, compared to those who walked the fastest, had higher risks for all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR], 2.22) and cancer mortality (HR, 2.12), with similar outcomes for mobility disability (HRs >1.64). The associations with all-cause mortality were significant for more than nine cancer types, the study authors added (the study analyzed 15 different types of cancer).

“Cancer survivors are living longer than ever—and that’s good news,” said Dr. Salerno. “But it’s important to improve our understanding of how the diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of cancers may affect walking pace during survivorship—a potentially modifiable risk factor—which could lead to new treatment and rehabilitation strategies to improve the health of these patients.”

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“Next steps include identifying the underlying reasons for these associations. It’s possible that slow walking may be due to the cancer itself, adverse effects of treatment, or changes in lifestyle. There is still much to be learned about these complex relationships, but our results highlight the importance of monitoring and even targeting walking pace after cancer,” Dr. Salerno said.