Can a simple handshake predict cancer survival rates? Yes.

Doctor and patient meeting handshake greeting

New acquaintances are often judged by their handshake. Research has now recognized the simple squeeze as an important diagnostic tool in assessing strength and quality of life among critical care patients.

In a study published in the journal, Support Care Cancer, Concordia professor Robert Kilgour and his colleagues at the McGill (Montreal, Canada) Nutrition and Performance Laboratory confirmed a link between handgrip strength and survival rates.

The test was simple: 203 patients fighting advanced-stage cancers squeezed a device known as a dynamometer with their dominant hand. The instrument then measured peak grip strength.

Because it requires minimal equipment, this method of evaluation is both portable and practical, says Kilgour: “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.”

While other diagnostic tests rely on a patient’s self-reporting or examine related factors such as decreased body weight,the handgrip test directly focuses on body strength. Its precision allows doctors to better assess a patient’s decline. Clinicians typically classify patients by percentiles; those in the bottom 10th percentile are in the most serious condition, while those in the 25th are somewhat stronger. In most cases, slowing a patient’s decline and maintaining a decent quality of life can be a significant accomplishment.

Kilgour and his colleagues believe the grip test may help all categories of patients, especially those in the 25th percentile. At this stage, even modest interventions, like starting exercise or a diet change, can yield results, boosting both the physical and mental health of patients.

My Take: Seems logical, at least for those with advanced cancer. I hope to never see you as a patient with cancer, but if I do, please don’t crush my hand too much! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: R. D. Kilgour, A. Vigano, B. Trutschnigg, E. Lucar, M. Borod, J. A. Morais. Handgrip strength predicts survival and is associated with markers of clinical and functional outcomes in advanced cancer patients. Supportive Care in Cancer, 2013; 21 (12): 3261 DOI: 10.1007/s00520-013-1894-4


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