Walking Toward Cancer Survival

Observing the gait and walking pace of a cancer patient can serve as a sort of shorthand to assess overall patient health and even the chances of optimal treatment outcome. About a decade ago, researchers found that gait speed could be used in a general way to predict which patients might have greater challenges recovering from surgery. In fact, walking pace was found to be a strong predictor of mortality. This is because a gait slowdown indicates that a patient is not as spry or able to bounce back.

Now that correlation – of walking speed and later health outcomes – has been examined specifically in patients with blood cancers, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. How quickly patients walk can predict which patients are more likely to have an unplanned hospitalization and even which patients are more likely to survive treatment.

Slower walking pace in cancer patients ups the risk of adverse outcomes, including:

  • 22% higher risk of dying during the study period
  • 33% higher risk of unexpectedly going to the hospital
  • 34% higher risk of going to the emergency room

Observing that walking pace is slowing down can identify frail patients, which can then be used to guide treatment plans.

By taking less than a minute to assess this in a medical consult, health care providers can garner useful insight into individual patients. This study relied on the gait measurement of the National Institutes of Health ‘4-meter gait speed test’ as a brief screening assessment. Clearly, this is a worthwhile, quick, and low-cost addition to consider during oncology patient appointments with your patients.


Liu MA, DuMontier C, Murillo A, et al. Gait speed, grip strength and clinical outcomes in older patients with hematologic malignancies. Blood 2019 doi: https://doi.org/10.1182/blood.2019000758