Open Access Research article

Home-based functional walking program for advanced cancer patients receiving palliative care: a case series

Sonya S Lowe1*, Sharon M Watanabe12, Vickie E Baracos2 and Kerry S Courneya3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Symptom Control and Palliative Care, Cross Cancer Institute, 11560 University Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 1Z2, Canada

2 Division of Palliative Care Medicine, Department of Oncology, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada

3 Physical Activity and Cancer, Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta, E-488 Van Vliet Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2H9, Canada

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BMC Palliative Care 2013, 12:22  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-12-22

Published: 11 May 2013



Although meta-analyses have demonstrated that physical activity can positively impact quality of life outcomes in early stage cancer patients, it is not yet known whether these benefits can be extended to patients with advanced cancer. In a previous pilot survey of patients with advanced cancer with a median survival of 104 days, participants felt willing and able to participate in a physical activity intervention, and reported a strong preference for walking and home-based programming. Here, we report on the initial development and feasibility of a home-based functional walking program in patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care.


Nine adult patients were recruited from outpatient palliative care clinics and palliative home care. A pilot intervention trial was conducted over a 6-week period. The McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire (MQOL), Late Life Function and Disability Instrument (LLFDI), Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS), Seniors Fitness Test, four-test balance scale, and grip strength, were performed pre- and post-intervention. Participants wore activPALâ„¢ accelerometers to monitor ambulatory activity levels.


Of the nine recruited participants, three participants dropped out prior to baseline testing due to hospital admission and feeling overwhelmed, and three participants dropped out during the intervention due to severe symptoms. Only three participants completed the intervention program, pre- and post-intervention assessments: two reported improvements in total MQOL scores, yet all three shared an overall trend towards worsening symptom and total fatigue scores post-intervention. Two participants passed away within 90 days of completing the intervention.


This case series demonstrates the challenges of a physical activity intervention in patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care. Further feasibility research is required in this patient population.

Trial registration

This study is registered under as NCT00438620.

Physical activity; Palliative care; Cancer; Quality of life; Walking