Definition

Cancer fatigue is a feeling of extreme weakness and exhaustion. It occurs during cancer treatment. At times, it can make it hard to do basic tasks. The fatigue can last for weeks or even years.

Chemotherapy Affects the Whole Body
Chemotherapy
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Causes

Cancer and the side effects of treatment cause the fatigue. Fatigue can be made worse by the following:

  • Anemia—drop in red blood cells
  • Poor nutrition and dehydration, often due to nausea and/or vomiting
  • Hormonal changes
  • Lack of sleep
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Stress
  • Pain
  • Side effects of medications

These are common side effects of cancer treatment. Treatment effects on some organs like kidney, liver, or heart can also increase fatigue.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chances of cancer fatigue:

  • Undergoing cancer treatment
  • Worsening of cancer
  • Poor nutrition or breathing problems before treatment is started
  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Being overweight
  • Being socially isolated or lonely
  • History of childhood stress, such as abuse and/or neglect
  • Genetic factors

Symptoms

Cancer fatigue may cause:

  • Extreme fatigue that is not relieved by sleep or rest
  • Lack of energy to do basic daily tasks
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Impatience, irritability
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may ask you some questions. You may also be given a questionnaire. This will help to make a diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on your specific needs. Work with your care team to find what works best for you. Related problems like anemia will need to be treated.

Other options include medicine, therapy, and home care.

Medicine

Medicine that may help to relieve fatigue include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Stimulants
  • Corticosteroids

Therapy

Your mental health can play a role. Stress and negative thought patterns can make fatigue worse. Changes to your life can also cause stress and negative thoughts.

Therapy may help you find better ways to cope. There are different options such as one on one therapy or group sessions.

Home Care

Changes to your daily habits may also help. Options that may help include:

  • Light exercise—on days when you have more energy. Walking for 15-30 minutes a day is one good option.
  • Learn proper sleep habits. Find time to relax before bed. Avoid naps that last more than 1 hour during the day.
  • Eat a healthful diet.
  • Balance your daily life:
    • If you can, adjust your work schedule and workload.
    • Talk with a financial advisor. They can help you with your costs and future.
  • Plan steps to save your energy throughout the day. It may include:
    • Balance activity with rest periods
    • Get help for physically demanding home tasks
    • Ask your family and friends to help you with tasks at home

Prevention

It is not always possible to prevent cancer fatigue. Your care team will work to help you manage treatment and side effects.

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