Results from a recent study indicate that cancer might negatively impact both physical and mental health, particularly as people age. This study suggests that cancer increases the risk for some health issues beyond the normal risks that accompany aging. This increased risk could be due to decreased physical activity and increased stress associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment.1

The population of older adults is increasing, so understanding the unique impact cancer can have on people as they age is important for clinicians. This study examined cancer registry data linked to Medicare surveys.

Researchers analyzed data from 921 Medicare beneficiaries who received diagnoses of breast, colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer and completed initial surveys in 1998 and 2001 and follow-up surveys 2 years later. These data were matched to data from 4605 controls who did not have cancer.

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Results showed that the groups with cancer reported greater reductions in activities of daily living and physical function compared with controls. These declines were particularly pronounced in the lung cancer group.

In addition, a cancer diagnosis increased the risk of depression. A cancer diagnosis, however, did not increase the risk of developing arthritis, vision or hearing problems, or incontinence, with the exception of prostate cancer, which does increase the risk of incontinence. It also did not worsen the severity of arthritis or foot neuropathy.

“This prospective analysis used a propensity score matched control group to cancer cases that enabled us to tease apart the effects of cancer and aging in a novel way,” said Corinne Leach, MS, PhD, MPH, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Decreased physical functioning among older cancer patients compared with older adults without cancer is an important finding for clinicians because it is also actionable. Clinicians need to prepare patients and families for this change in functioning levels and provide interventions that preserve physical function to limit the declines for older cancer patients.”


1. Leach CR, Bellizzi KM, Hurria A, Reeve B. Is it my cancer or am I just getting older?: impact of cancer on age-related health conditions of older cancer survivors [published online ahead of print May 9, 2016]. Cancer. doi:10.1002/cncr.29914.