Home-Based Programs Benefit Older Cancer Survivors

They improved ability to live and function when enrolled in tailored interventions

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TUESDAY, Nov. 18, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Home-based programs to get elderly cancer survivors to eat better and exercise more may help them improve their ability to live and function, a new study says.

The Texas study found that cancer survivors age 65 and older improved their physical ability, lost weight and body mass when enrolled in a home-based program that sent them tailored print materials on diet and exercise, a pedometer and exercise bands, and included periodic phone calls from counselors.

The findings were to be presented Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer Research's annual conference on cancer prevention research, in National Harbor, Md.

"Younger cancer patients are usually able to bounce back, but older patients may need a structured program to stop functional decline and retain independence," researcher Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said in a news release issued by the conference organizers.

The study included 641 elderly participants who survived cancer for at least five years with no evidence of recurrence, had no medical conditions that would prevent unsupervised exercise, and were overweight or obese.

Those in the intervention group saw their ability to perform moderate to vigorous physical activity increase by almost 45 minutes a week, compared with almost 30 minutes per week in a control group. Those in the home-based program lowered their body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) by 0.8, compared with 0.3 in the control group.

Such findings are important as the number of cancer survivors climbs and long-term health effects of the disease and its treatment are coming into view, Demark-Wahnefried said.

"Last year alone, we spent $219 billion on cancer care, but only 40 percent of that was spent on treatment," said Demark-Wahnefried. "The majority of costs were due to lost productivity and health problems that surfaced afterwards."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer and obesity.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Nov. 18, 2008

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