The Struggles of Elderly Cancer Patients

Breast cancer patients over the age of 65 often had functional disability

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It’s not unusual for elderly individuals to have trouble with day-to-day activities. The addition of cancer treatments may make these tasks an even greater struggle, according to new research.

A breast cancer diagnosis may add to the difficulty many older women have with daily activities, a newly published study found.

This physical decline was particularly steep for elderly African-American women.

The researchers concluded that elderly breast cancer patients could benefit from therapies that improve their physical functioning.

"Tell your healthcare team if you need help with everyday activities."

Cynthia Owusu, MD, MS, of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, led this research to see if there were any racial differences in functional disabilities among older women with breast cancer.

“An abundance of research has shown racial differences in the prevalence and incidence of age-related functional disability, with African-Americans being three times as likely to experience functional disability compared with non-Hispanic whites,” the authors wrote.

Functional disabilities assessed in the study related to the activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, toileting, shopping, preparing meals, housekeeping, managing medications and money.

Prior research has also established a link between cancer and increased risks for functional decline. Cancer survivors are more likely to experience problems with daily activities compared to individuals with no history of cancer.

Physical functioning declines have also been associated with higher mortality (death) risks.

A total of 190 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients aged 65 and older at the time of their cancer diagnosis were enrolled in this study. The average age of participants was 75.

The ladies had undergone surgery to treat stage l through lll breast cancer. Before receiving any further treatment, study members completed an assessment, which looked at functional disability defined as needing help for any basic or daily activity.

Participants also completed a questionnaire that asked about their age, race, educational and marital status, living arrangements and income.

The researchers gathered information about other medical conditions by reviewing participant medical records.

The study found that African-American women were four times more likely than white women to have functional disabilities.

These racial differences disappeared when researchers took into account lower income and education status, along with a higher prevalence of chronic conditions the African-American women had compared to their white counterparts.

African-American participants were more likely than white women to have high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease, the researchers discovered.

“Interventions to optimize the functional status of at-risk individuals, particularly African-Americans, during and after cancer treatment may improve treatment tolerance and overall survival outcomes,” the authors wrote.

This study was published September 23 in Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

The Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation helped to fund this study. Two of the authors reported receiving financial remuneration for their work with two organizations.

Review Date: 
September 22, 2013
Last Updated:
September 23, 2013