The association between food access and frailty among older adults with gastrointestinal malignancies-The CARE Registry

Cancer. 2024 Apr 1;130(7):1083-1091. doi: 10.1002/cncr.35144. Epub 2023 Dec 7.


Background: Food access is associated with higher gastrointestinal (GI) cancer mortality; however, its association with frailty, which is a predictor of premature mortality among older adults with cancer, is less understood.

Methods: The authors included 880 adults aged 60 years and older who were recently diagnosed with GI cancers and were undergoing self-reported geriatric assessment at their first prechemotherapy visit to the University of Alabama at Birmingham oncology clinic. Food access was measured using the 2019 US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service designation low-income, low-access (LILA), classifying census tracts based on income and/or access to food stores at various distances. The primary outcome was frailty on the CARE (Cancer and Aging Resilience Evaluation) Frailty Index, a composite of the proportion of impaired geriatric assessment measures. The authors examined the LILA-frailty association with modified Poisson regression accounting for census-tract clustering.

Results: The median patient age was 69 years, 58.1% were men, 22.5% were non-Hispanic Black, 29.2% had colorectal cancer, 28.0% had pancreatic cancer, 70.1% presented with stage III/IV disease, and 34.9% were frail. A higher proportion in LILA areas were non-Hispanic Black (44.1% vs. 10.8%; p < .001) and had less education (high school or less: 48.1% vs. 37.9%; p = .020). Adjusting for age, race and ethnicity, sex, cancer type and stage, and education, an LILA designation was associated with 58% greater odds of worsening frailty status (95% confidence interval, 1.18-2.12). An analysis of LILA subcategories revealed that associations were maintained across all LILA measures.

Conclusions: Poor food access was associated with a greater risk of frailty among newly diagnosed older adults with GI cancers before they received systemic treatment. Intervening on local food access, particularly in LILA areas, may be a target for improving rates of frailty and promoting health equity in this population.

Keywords: food access; gastrointestinal cancer; geriatric oncology; older adults; social determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly
  • Frailty* / diagnosis
  • Frailty* / epidemiology
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries