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Ask A PT: Why Do Cancer Patients Fall?

Q: Why are cancer patients at such high risk for falling?

A: Falls are a leading cause of injuries sustained by hospitalized patients and patients with cancer experience the third highest of all hospital falls. So why do patients with cancer fall?

Intrinsic Risk Factors:

  • Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) – a condition that includes pain, numbness, tingling and sensitivity to cold in a patient’s hands and feet
  • Polypharmacy – when a patient takes multiple prescriptions at the same time (for one or more conditions)
  • Inadequate Vitamin D – leads to muscle weakness, functional deficits, and osteoporosis in patients
  • Dehydration – leads to postural hypotension, or lightheadedness when an individual stands
  • Reduced physical activity

Extrinsic Risk Factors:

  • Inappropriate clothing or footwear
  • Defective wheeled medical equipment or furniture
  • Inadequate lighting

Another factor affecting cancer patients is the fear of falling. This is associated with a self-imposed restriction that may lead to functional decline.

With a cancer diagnosis, the risk for falls increases significantly, potentially resulting in increased morbidity, mortality, and financial costs.  Injuries sustained as result of a patient falling are often more severe due to the underlying medical condition.  These conditions can include a predisposition for fractures due to bony metastases, uncontrollable bleeding from thrombocytopenia or medications used to prevent blood clots. As of 2012, hospitalization cost for an injury resulting from falls accounts for more than $34,000 per patient excluding cancer treatment and the long-term effects of fall injuries.

To minimize the onset of these deficits and improve a patient’s quality of life, we encourage exercise, hydration, and proper nutritional intake. Within the hospital setting, patients should participate in fall risk screenings during the course of their treatment stay. Patients receiving cancer treatment can also benefit from participating in oncology-related supportive exercise groups or in hospital-based exercise programs established by both physical and occupational therapists.

Are you an individual looking for care and education after a fall? Fill out the form below to request an appointment today!



About the PT

Mike Garcia graduated with a Bachelors of Physical Therapy at EAC Manila, Philippines and went on to earn his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at UTICA College. He has experience working in a variety of settings including Acute Care (Oncology), Industrial/ Inpatient Rehabilitation and outpatient clinics. Mike has served as staff therapist, Director of Rehab, and Clinic Supervisor in various settings. Mike enjoys providing educational seminars on “Fall Prevention of the Older Adults” to community groups, Skilled Nursing Rehab centers and Assisted Living Facilities. Currently, Mike is the Acute Care Therapy Director for PT Solutions at Florida Hospital Carrollwood in Tampa, Florida.


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