Frailty May Increase Risk for Death Among Older Adults Who are Cancer Survivors
Monday, December 21, 2015
Thanks to earlier detection and improved treatments, cancer survivors are now living longer after their diagnoses. But for some people, the treatments that cured their cancer can leave them in poor health.
In a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers followed a group of 416 older adult cancer survivors for more than 11 years. The participants’ average age was 72-years-old. Their cancer diagnoses included breast cancer (26.3%), gastrointestinal cancer (which involves the stomach and intestines) (18.4), genitourinary cancer (which involves the genitals or urinary organs) (21.3%), gynecologic cancer (dealing with the female reproductive system) (14.2%), lung cancer (2.7%) and hematologic cancer (involving the blood) (2.5%).
Among the survivors, 37.3% were classified as “pre-frail” (someone who shows a few signs of frailty, such as low weight, slow walking, weakness, exhaustion, or low levels of physical activity) and 9.1% were classified as “frail” (or exhibiting more of the characteristics noted earlier).
Pre-frail or frail participants had a much higher risk of dying prematurely than those who were non-frail, said the researchers. Starting at the time of study enrollment, those classified as pre-frail survived an average of 9.5 years, while those classified as frail survived an average of 2.5 years. Non-frail participants survived nearly 14 years on average, said the researchers.
Screening for pre-frailty or frailty among older adult cancer survivors could lead to interventions that could prevent or delay the onset of frailty, suggested the researchers. Exercise or physical activity might be an effective way to accomplish that goal, they added, since exercise is proven to improve walking speed and balance among older adults and may even reduce the risk of death.
“Symptoms of frailty are common among older adults with a history of cancer and have important implications for survival. Older adults should discuss any symptoms of frailty they’re experiencing with their healthcare providers. Their healthcare providers may suggest interventions, such as physical activity, which may lessen frailty and help improve health and wellness,” says Justin C. Brown, MA, of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a co-author of the study.
This summary is from “The Prognostic Importance of Frailty Among Cancer Survivors.” It appears online ahead of print in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Justin C. Brown, MA; Michael O. Harhay, MPH; and Meera N. Harhay, MD, MSCE.