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Phys Ther. 2010 Nov;90(11):1649-57. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20090405. Epub 2010 Sep 2.

Persistent mobility disability after neurotoxic chemotherapy.

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Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 6035 Forbes Tower, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.



The impact of cancer and its treatments on balance and functional mobility in older adults remains unknown but is increasingly important, given the evolution of cancer treatments. Subacute and more persistent side effects such as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy are on the rise, and the effects on mobility and balance, as well as the prognosis for resolution of any functional deficits, must be established before interventions can be trialed. The purpose of this case report is to describe the severity and long-term persistence of mobility decline in an older adult who received neurotoxic chemotherapy. To our knowledge, this is the first case report to describe an older adult with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy using results of standardized balance and mobility tests and to focus on prognosis by repeating these measures more than 2 years after chemotherapy.


An 81-year-old woman received a neurotoxic agent (paclitaxel) after curative mastectomy for breast cancer. Baseline testing prior to taxane therapy revealed a socially active woman with no reported functional deficits or neuropathic symptoms, 1.2-m/s gait speed, and performance at the ceiling on balance and gait portions of a standardized mobility measure.


After 3 cycles, paclitaxel therapy was stopped by the oncologist because of neurotoxicity. Declines as large as 50% were seen in performance-based measures at 12 weeks and persisted at 2.5 years, and the patient reported recurrent falls, cane use, and mobility-related disability.


This case highlights the extent to which function can decline in an older individual receiving neurotoxic chemotherapy, the potential for these deficits to persist years after treatment is stopped, and the need for physical therapy intervention and further research in this population.

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