Few studies have evaluated the independent effect of a cancer diagnosis on vulnerability and frailty, which have been associated with adverse health outcomes in older adults.
We used data in the 2003 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey from a nationally representative sample of 12 480 community-dwelling elders. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to evaluate whether cancer was independently associated with vulnerability and frailty. Measures of vulnerability and frailty included disability, geriatric syndromes, self-rated health, and scores on two assessment tools for elderly cancer patients—the Vulnerable Elders Survey-13 (VES-13) and the Balducci frailty criteria. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Diagnosis of a non-skin cancer was reported by 18.8% of the respondents. Compared with respondents without a cancer history, respondents with a personal history of cancer had a statistically significantly higher prevalence of limitations in activities of daily living (31.9% vs 26.9%), limitations in instrumental activities of daily living (49.5% vs 42.3%), geriatric syndromes (60.8% vs 53.9%), low self-rated health (27.4% vs 20.9%), score of 3 or higher on the VES-13 (45.8% vs 39.5%), and satisfying criteria for frailty as defined by Balducci (79.6% vs 73.4%) (P < .001 for all characteristics). After adjustment for confounders, a cancer diagnosis was found to be associated with low self-rated health (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.46, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.30 to 1.64; relative risk [RR] = 1.33), limitations in activities of daily living (adjusted OR = 1.19, 95% CI = 1.06 to 1.33; RR = 1.13), limitations in instrumental activities of daily living (adjusted OR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.13 to 1.38; RR = 1.13), a geriatric syndrome (adjusted OR = 1.27, 95% CI = 1.15 to 1.41; RR = 1.11), VES-13 score of 3 or higher (adjusted OR = 1.26, 95% CI = 1.13 to 1.41; RR = 1.14), and frailty (adjusted OR = 1.46, 95% CI = 1.29 to 1.65; RR = 1.09) as defined by Balducci criteria.
Diagnosis of a non-skin cancer was associated with increased levels of having disability, having geriatric syndromes, and meeting criteria for vulnerability and frailty.