MAR 04, 2021 9:27 AM PST

Slow walking pace: cause for alarm in cancer survivors

New research published today in the American Association for Cancer Research journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, reports an observed association between slow walking pace and increased risk of death in cancer survivors. While the study does not explicitly suggest that slow walking is a cause of death, the authors say that the association was consistent across 9 tumor types.

The study was conducted with data from 233,000 participants, aged 50-71, enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-American Association of Retired Persons (NIH-AARP) Diet and Health Study. The participants, who were followed over several years, responded to questions concerning their overall health, walking pace, and or walking-disability.  

"To our knowledge, this analysis is the first to explore the relationship between cancer, walking pace and subsequent mortality in 15 different cancer types," said first author Elizabeth A. Salerno, Ph.D., one of the Washington University School of Medicine researchers who was involved in the study. "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."

The analysis showed that cancer survivors were 42% more likely to report walking at the slowest pace and 24% more likely to report being disabled when compared to healthy adults. Even more noteworthy was the association between walking pace and increased risk of death – those individuals who walked at the slowest pace had a more than twofold increased risk of death from any cause, compared with those reporting the fastest walking pace. This was held true for breast, colon, melanoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, oral, prostate, rectal, respiratory, and urinary cancers. The association between mobility disability and death showed to be even more extensive, true across all of the aforementioned cancers as well as endometrial, endocrine, ovarian, and stomach cancers.

"Cancer survivors are living longer than ever - and that's good news," said 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."

Photo: Pixabay

But, you may ask, is cancer really what we should be shining the spotlight on here, or is slow-paced walking and mobile disability a problem with roots that extend past cancer? Well, explain the researchers, although slow walking pace also demonstrated an association to increased mortality among individuals without a cancer diagnosis, that mortality risk was over twofold for cancer survivors. This, they say, is certainly enough cause for alarm for more investigation into the matter.

Sources: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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