Staying Safe and Active During Cancer Treatment

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2022

Cancer treatments can change the way you feel physically and emotionally. You may not be able to get around your home or community in your usual ways. For people aged 65 and older, common needs include ways to prevent falls, stay active, and find safe and reliable transportation to and from medical appointments during cancer care.

It is helpful to discuss these specific scenarios and solutions with your health care providers and family caregivers before cancer treatment begins. You can come up with a plan to stay safe and independent during your treatment and recovery.

Why is it important to prevent falls?

Among people aged 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injuries. And, those with cancer are at an increased risk of falls.

One in five falls causes serious injuries, such as broken bones or head trauma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As people get older, these types of serious injuries can affect their ability to do their daily activities or live on their own.

Some people can become overly afraid of falling so they limit their exercise and daily activity. This can lead to muscle loss and decreased physical fitness. This can make your risk of falling even higher, so it is important to stay active and safe.

Why does cancer increase fall risk?

People with cancer, and especially people who are age 65 or older with cancer, are more likely to fall. This is because cancer treatments like chemotherapy can damage your nerves and affect your balance. The disease and its treatment can also cause vision changes that might make someone more likely to fall. Some medications, including those to treat cancer or relieve pain, nausea, or other side effects, can make you dizzy or sleepy.

Preventing falls before, during, and after cancer treatment

Talk to your oncologist and other health care providers about your risk of falls and how to prevent them. Ask if any of your treatments will increase your risk of falls. You should also tell them about any changes to your fall history or side effects. It's important that your health care team knows about:

  • Recent falls

  • Changes to your vision during cancer diagnosis or treatment

  • Differences in your balance or steadiness on your feet

  • Foot problems

  • Current medications and their possible interactions, which can make you feel sleepy or sleepy and increase your risk of falls

Small improvements in your home can reduce your risk for falls. Remove clutter from hallways and stairways. Plug a nightlight in a bathroom outlet so you can see clearly if you get up at night. Install rails to help you navigate your shower, bath, toilet, and stairs safely.

Staying physically active also helps prevent falls. Exercise increases bone and muscle strength, which is important for balance as we age. Ask your cancer care team for tips on physical activity during treatment. See more about physical activity below.

How to stay active during cancer treatment

Exercise is important for many reasons for people aged 65 and older, including people undergoing or recovering from cancer treatments. Exercise is safe and helpful for most people during cancer treatment and recovery.

Cancer treatments can affect your energy and strength. You may need to modify your usual physical activity during treatment. Ask your provider how to tailor your exercise or daily activities during and after cancer treatment.

If you have trouble with physical activity during cancer treatment or recovery, it may be helpful to work with an occupational therapist or physical therapist.

Travelling to and from appointments safely

Keeping your medical appointments is very important. However, aging brings challenges to driving safely. Also, cancer and cancer treatment can affect your ability to drive because of nerve damage, dizziness, or side effects from sedation or anesthesia. And, sometimes you may feel more fatigue and less energy without warning. That's why it is important to consider different ways to get to cancer treatment besides driving your car. You can:

  • Ask family or friends to drive you to and from appointments. If you have more than 1 driver, it may be helpful to create a schedule so everyone is clear on who is driving when. Also, be sure drivers have each other's phone numbers in case of a last-minute scheduling change.

  • Talk with an oncology social worker or cancer center staff about local transportation services and resources.

  • Contact programs that can provide assistance like the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program or the Good Days program. (Please note these links takes you to different websites.)

Questions to ask the health care team

Consider asking your health care team the following:

  • How can I keep myself as healthy and independent as possible during cancer treatment?

  • Why is it important to prevent falls at home?

  • Does cancer treatment raise my risk of falls?

  • How can I reduce my risk of falling?

  • Could side effects from cancer or its treatment affect my ability to drive safely?

  • How often will I need to come into the doctor's office or medical center for treatment? How long will each appointment take?

  • Can any of my appointments be done using telehealth services?

  • Does this cancer center offer any transportation services? Who can point me to local transportation resources?

  • What are the benefits of regular physical activity during and after cancer treatment?

  • Who can I talk with about creating an exercise plan that's right for me?

  • Are there other cancer rehabilitation services that can help me?

Related Resources

How to Stay Safe and Independent During Cancer Treatment

What is Cancer Rehabilitation?

Exercise During Cancer Treatment

An Exercise Program for You: 5 Tips for People with Cancer

Balance Exercises After Cancer Treatment

More Information

National Council on Aging: Fall Prevention for Older Adults Driving Safety for Older Adults