Functioning of Older, Long-Term Cancer Survivors: The Role of Cancer and Comorbidities


  • A version of this study was presented at the “Geriatric Oncology and Primary Care: Promoting Partnerships in Practice and Research Conference,” April 3–4, 2008, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Address correspondence to Gary T. Deimling, Department of Sociology, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106. E-mail:


OBJECTIVES: To examine the relative effect of comorbidities, noncancer symptoms, and cancer-related factors on the functioning of older adult long-term survivors of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

DESIGN: Data from in-person interviews with survivors of a tumor registry–based stratified random sample were used to test a multivariate model using ordinary least-squares regression.

SETTING: Survivors were identified in the tumor registry of a National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

PARTICIPANTS: Three hundred twenty-one older (≥60), long-term (≥5 years) cancer survivors.

MEASUREMENTS: The primary outcome measure, functional difficulty, was measured using Nagi's Performance Limitations Index. Predictors included a number of indicators of survivors' personal characteristics, age-related health characteristics, and cancer-related characteristics.

RESULTS: The model explained 44% of the variance in functional difficulties between the cancer survivors in this sample. The strongest predictors were symptoms not attributed to cancer (β=0.28) and comorbidities (β=0.22), although cancer-related factors explained an additional 8% of the variance over that explained by demographic and noncancer health factors, with current cancer-related symptoms being a significant predictor (β=0.14).

CONCLUSION: These findings indicate the importance of monitoring cancer-related characteristics along with comorbidities and noncancer symptoms in long-term survivors because they jointly affect overall physical functioning. Special attention needs to be given to women and minority cancer survivors as well.