Cancer Survivors Twice as Likely to Experience Disability, Study Shows

Cancer, and its treatment, can put a survivor’s body through the wringer. Common side effects include chemo brain, lymphedema, appetite loss, fatigue, pain, and serious digestive issues. It may even impact sleep, which can deprive survivors of the rest they need to address these other complications. Maybe unsurprisingly, this may lead survivors to have higher rates of disability than the general public.

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently examined the rates of both mobility and self-care disability in U.S. cancer survivors to better understand how prevalent they are. Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a phone survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the team looked at rates among nearly 48,000 cancer survivors and more than 2.4 million cancer-free Americans. The figures were collected between 2017 and 2022.

Loved one pushes person with disability in wheelchair

According to findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, both mobility and self-care disability are about twice as prevalent in survivors.

Dr. Chao Cao, the study’s first author, says, “The effects of cancer and its treatment can lead to a variety of physical limitations that impair people’s quality of life and ability to care for themselves.

“Even as the number of cancer survivors has grown, the prevalence and patterns of physical disabilities in this group have received little scientific attention. Our study is one of the first to examine this issue.”

Their study found that 27.9% of survivors reported mobility disability, compared with 13.4% of the cancer-free participants. In addition, while only 3.8% of cancer-free participants reported self-care disability, 7.4% of cancer patients did.

Woman supported by husband as she uses cane

The team also found that certain survivors were more apt to experience these issues. That includes those who were still receiving treatment, as well as those with higher BMI, lower physical activity, lower levels of education and income, and other health conditions. Additionally, non-Hispanic Black, Native American, and Hispanic survivors were more impacted than non-Hispanic white survivors. There were also differences based on the type of cancer a person had.

The team says their findings show the need for targeted disability prevention efforts.

Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, senior author, explains, “These results point to the need for prevention efforts targeted at groups more likely to experience cancer-related disability.”

Partners help each other walk

You can read more of the study here.

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