Cancer and mobility problems

Sometimes, cancer or treatment side effects can affect how easy it is to walk and move around (your mobility).

This might be a short-term problem as your body recovers from cancer treatment. Or it may be a long-term or permanent change.

Problems moving around can make simple tasks difficult. These tasks might include:

  • moving around the house
  • getting in or out of your chair or bed, or up and down stairs
  • getting bathed and dressed
  • preparing and eating drinks and meals
  • travelling outside your home.

Getting help with mobility problems

Your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse can tell you what support is available and how to access it. They may also arrange for you to see a:

  • physiotherapist (PT) – someone who gives information, support and aids to help people with tasks such as washing and dressing.
  • occupational therapist (OT) – someone who gives advice about exercise and mobility.

Your doctor, nurse, PT or OT can also help you manage symptoms or side effects if these are making mobility problems worse.

You may also be able to get help coping with mobility problems through adult social services. A healthcare professional can usually refer you, or you can contact adult social services.

Social services can offer you a needs assessment. You can find your local adult social care service and apply for a needs assessment here

During an assessment, a social worker, OT or nurse will ask you about your daily routine and things you find difficult. This can help them assess what you need and what care or equipment they can give.

Mobility aids

If you are having problems with walking, a mobility aid might help. There are different options depending on your needs.

Walking sticks

A walking stick can help give you support and help you balance. A physiotherapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) can advise you on which type might be best for you.

For your safety, the stick needs to be the right height. You can also get left and right-handed sticks. Some come with feet, so they stand up by themselves.

Sometimes you can borrow a walking stick from the hospital. You may need to pay a deposit. Mobility shops and websites also sell walking sticks.

Walking frames (Zimmer frames)

Walking frames, also called Zimmer frames, give more support than a walking stick. The PT or OT can advise you on which type is suitable for you. For your safety, it is important that the frame is the correct height for you.

Walking frames may:

  • have wheels, to use outside or indoors
  • have seats, trays or baskets attached
  • fold down to fit in the boot of a car.

The NHS website has further information about walking sticks and frames.

Wheelchairs

If you struggle to walk, you may find a wheelchair helpful for getting around. They can be useful when going outdoors and into shops and buildings.

Your PT or OT may advise you on whether to borrow, rent or buy one. It might depend on:

  • how long you might need it
  • how often it will be used
  • whether it is for indoors or outdoors.

If you need a wheelchair for a short time, your local Red Cross shop may be able to lend you one. Shopping centres often have ShopMobility schemes to use while you are there.

If you need one longer term, your GP, PT or OT may refer you for a wheelchair assessment. The assessment can help find out if you need one and which type would be most suitable.

If you want to get a wheelchair on the NHS, you will need a wheelchair assessment. If you wish to buy one, you may be eligible for a voucher to put toward the cost.

Mobility shops and websites sell wheelchairs. A Motability Scheme can help you buy or rent a wheelchair.

Mobility scooters

A mobility scooter can be useful for covering longer distances. They can often be folded to fit in the boot of a car. Mobility scooters can be expensive. You may want to think about:

  • how often you will need it
  • whether it needs to go on the road as well as the pavement
  • where you might keep it
  • the care and maintenance costs.

Your PT or OT may give advice you to help you decide.

A Motability Scheme can help you buy or rent a mobility scooter

Blue Badge

If you have mobility problems, you may be able to apply for a Blue Badge to park nearer to shops and services. You can find out more on your local council website.

Check if you are eligible and apply at:

Things to help at home

Specialist equipment might help if you are having problems with managing tasks at home. Your occupational therapist (OT) can advise you on things that can make life easier.

You may be able to apply for equipment to help at home through the local council. Your local council can also assess your home. A home assessment is free and may identify adaptations that can be done to your home that make life easier. This might include a ramp up to your door, or a handrail by your steps.

Going to the toilet, bathing and dressing

A raised toilet seat or toilet frame may make going to the toilet safer and more comfortable. If you find getting to the toilet difficult you might want to have a urine bottle by the bed, or a commode.

A commode is a chair with a toilet bowl hidden underneath which can be cleaned after use. You can keep it close by. If you worry about getting to the toilet at night, it may be useful in your bedroom.

Equipment to make bathing safer includes:

  • handrails in the bathroom
  • slip mats
  • shower seats.

Your OT might want to assess your home to see what would be suitable and safe for you.

There is equipment to help with putting on underwear, socks, tights and shoes.

Beds and chairs

You can sometimes use furniture raisers to raise your bed and chair. This can make them easier to get in and out of. A rail attached to your bed may make you feel safer. You may find a high-backed chair with arms, or a riser recliner chair is easier, to get out of.

Stairs

Your OT and PT may also suggest equipment to make using stairs easier and safer. These can include stair rails or stair lifts. A stair climber chair with wheels allows someone looking after you to help you get up and down.

How much does help cost?

The NHS can provide most care, support and equipment for free. There may be some things that involve costs to you.

Social services may ask you to pay some of the cost of any support they offer. This depends on your financial situation. You may be entitled to extra benefits to help you get care. You will never be charged for support unless you have agreed to pay for it.

You may be able to get disability-related benefits or help with money. If you need help with money, you can talk to our advisers by calling 0808 808 0000.

Other sources of help

Charities or voluntary organisations such as the ones listed here may provide equipment or help in some areas. Some services are free. You may pay for others.

  • Age UK

    Age UK may provide home help and extra help around the house. They can also advise about care and support.

  • British Red Cross

    The British Red Cross can provide help and support at home. They also lend equipment, such as wheelchairs and commodes, and provide a service to take people to hospital. They may provide volunteers who can help you with shopping and errands, like posting letters and changing library books.

  • Living Made Easy

    The Living Made Easy website has information about where to get equipment and what it might cost. The Ask SARA section gives advice about services in your local area that fit your needs.

  • Local volunteer schemes

    In some areas these can provide someone to visit you at home, or help with household jobs. They may also offer support or help for carers. Your GP, cancer doctor or nurse may be able to tell you about local schemes that offer support. If you have an OT or PT, they may also be able to help. You could also check notice boards in your GP surgery, look online, or visit your local library or community centre.

Private services

You may decide to pay privately for equipment or help at home. Even if you are planning to pay for private care services, it is still often helpful to apply for a needs assessment.

Social services can provide a list of local approved private care providers. The NHS also has more information about help from private carers.

Private agencies providing care at home must be registered with the:

The UK Homecare Association can give you details of home care providers that follow its code of practice.

The following websites provide information about buying equipment yourself, including advice about different products and possible VAT exemption:

Going home from hospital

If you are in hospital, your team will plan any support you need so you can manage safely at home. They will arrange this before you leave hospital.

Try to think about your home and how able you are to move around. You may want to think about any day-to-day tasks that will be difficult for you. 

If you are worried about your mobility or how you will manage, tell someone in your healthcare team as soon as possible.

Your feelings and mobility problems

Mobility problems can mean you have to make changes to your lifestyle. You may find simple solutions that mean you adjust quite easily. But it can also cause anxiety, loss of confidence and other difficult feelings.

Sometimes, changes to mobility can get worse over time or become permanent. If this happens, you may need to change what you think is normal for you.

There is no right or wrong way to cope, but help is there if you need it. Talking about your feelings and worries to your healthcare team or to a partner, family member or friend may help.

You can also talk to us on 0808 808 0000. Or you may find it helps to talk to other people going through the same thing. Our Online Community is a place to share experiences and find others who understand.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our looking after someone with cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at  cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Supporting adult carers committee. Supporting Adult Carers: NICE guideline [NG150] Published: 22 January 2020. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng150 (accessed May 2022)

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. People's experience in adult social care services committee. People's experience in adult social care services: improving the experience of care and support for people using adult social care services: NICE guideline [NG86] Published: 20 February 2018. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng86 (accessed May 2022)

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 April 2023
|
Next review: 01 April 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.