The effect of aging and cancer on the symptom experience and physical function of elderly breast cancer survivors


  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) Studies of Cancer Survivors were funded as an intramural program of research conducted by the ACS Behavioral Research Center. We acknowledge the cooperation and efforts of the cancer registries and public health departments from the states of Arizona, California (Regions 2-6), Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wyoming. We also thank the staff of the hundreds of hospitals that reported cases to the participating cancer registries. Finally, we are grateful to the thousands of cancer survivors, their physicians, and their loved ones who contributed to the collection of these data, and we assume full responsibility for analyses and interpretation of these data.



The majority of cancer survivors are aged ≥65 years, yet, historically, cancer research has focused infrequently on older patients. The objective of this study was to examine predictors of physical function within a framework that integrates the gerontologic and oncologic needs of older cancer survivors.


Path analysis tested 759 women who were breast cancer survivors aged ≥70 years from the American Cancer Society Study of Cancer Survivors II to examine the cancer, aging, and personal characteristics that had an impact on symptoms and physical functioning.


High levels of symptom bother (β = −.42) and comorbidities (β = −.21) were strongly associated with lower physical function. Comorbidity and social support (β = .21) indirectly influenced symptom bother through emotional status (β = −.35). The model demonstrated good fit with the data (chi-square statistic, 50.6; adjusted chi-square statistic, 2.8; P < .001; goodness-of-fit index, .98; root mean square error of approximation, .049 [confidence interval, .03-.05]).


The current findings supported prior research indicating that the majority of older survivors of breast cancer are doing well, but there is a subset of survivors that requires ongoing attention to symptoms, comorbidities, emotional health, and social support to thrive after cancer treatment. Cancer 2012. © 2012 American Cancer Society.