Cancer Diagnostics From A Patient's Handshake
February 27, 2014

Handshake Strength Could Predict Advanced Cancer Survival Rates

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A simple gesture typically used to greet someone could also double as an easy, low-cost new diagnostic tool for determining a patient’s ability to fight potentially life-threatening diseases, according to new research appearing in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.

Concordia University professor Robert Kilgour and colleagues from McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) report in the study that the strength of a patient’s handshake can help healthcare providers assess his or her quality of life. In addition, they discovered an association between handgrip strength and survival rates in those individuals.

“Handgrip strength (HGS) has been shown to predict survival and is associated with changes in body composition, nutritional status, inflammation, and functional ability in several chronic disease conditions,” the authors wrote. However, it was unknown if there is a similar relationship between handgrip strength and advanced cancer patients.

Kilgour’s team set out to investigate that possible link, “as well as several key markers of body composition (e.g., sarcopenia), subjective performance measures (e.g., quality of life), and muscle strength (e.g., isokinetic torque of the quadriceps) in patients with advanced forms of non-small cell lung and gastrointestinal cancers.”

He and his colleagues recruited a total of 203 patients who were battling advanced-stage cancers, and had them squeeze a device known as a dynamometer using their dominant hand. The dynamometer, which measures peak grip strength, focuses solely on a patient’s body strength and can help doctors better assess potential physical decline, officials from the Montreal-based university explained in a statement Wednesday.

“This measure is one of several to categorize patients according to the severity of their disease. It can help determine interventions they may need, whether clinical, nutritional or functional,” Kilgour said. The research was supported in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Typically, patients are classified in categories based on percentiles: those in the bottom 10th percentile representing the most serious condition, while those in the 25th percentile are said to be somewhat stronger. Usually, slowing a patient’s rate of decline and maintaining his or her quality of life is a significant accomplishment.

Kilgour believes that his team’s findings will help all categories of patients, but especially those in the latter category. Patients who are in the 25th percentile, he explained, can improve both their physical and mental health simply by starting an exercise program or eating healthier.

“[Handgrip strength] is independently associated with survival and important biological, functional, and quality of life characteristics in advanced cancer patients,” the authors wrote. “Patients presenting with very low percentiles with respect to their handgrip assessment may require timely referral to supportive and/or palliative care services.”