What is cancer fatigue?

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Fatigue is arguably the most common side effect of cancer treatments, although nausea and hair loss (which is common with some types of chemotherapy) are more widely known adverse reactions. But fatigue can result from medications, not eating enough during and after cancer treatment, not getting enough sleep or even depression.

Cancer-related fatigue is different from other types of exhaustion. Sleep may not help people with cancer fatigue, who may feel fatigued doing everyday activities that healthier individuals may take for granted, such as talking on the phone, shopping for groceries, even lifting a fork to eat.

Cancer-related fatigue remains one of the most prevalent and troublesome adverse events experienced by people with cancer during and after therapy.

Carolyn Lammersfeld, MS
Integrative Medicine Specialist

Cancer fatigue is a common side effect in people being treated for cancer, and may persist after treatment is completed. People with cancer fatigue will describe feeling weak, tired, exhausted and may spend considerable time resting, therefore making it difficult to complete normal daily activities. This fatigue can significantly impact quality of life. There are many factors that may contribute to cancer fatigue. This fatigue may be a symptom of cancer or can result from cancer treatments. In addition, depression, sleep disturbances, malnutrition and inactivity may all contribute to cancer fatigue. For this reason, an integrative cancer treatment approach may be helpful for managing cancer fatigue. Medical treatments may be helpful as well as psychosocial support, prescriptive physical activity, nutrition support and in some cases dietary supplements.

Dr. Shelby A. Terstriep, MD
Hematologist

Cancer-related fatigue is a distressing, persistent, subjective sense of physical, emotional or cognitive tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer or its treatment that is not proportional to recent activity. It affects the daily living of more than 30 percent of cancer patients nationwide. For many patients, fatigue related to cancer can be more debilitating than managing chronic pain.

Sometimes cancer survivors may feel extremely tired or feel like they do not have enough energy to carry out their daily activities. Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or not having enough energy that can have a negative impact on quality of life. Many cancer survivors experience chronic fatigue after their active treatment has ended.

There are two main types of fatigue:

  • Acute fatigue is when you feel tired for a short time.
  • Chronic fatigue is a feeling of tiredness that is always with you. It can also be a feeling of tiredness that comes and goes but never goes away completely.
Dr. Stewart B. Fleishman, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Cancer fatigue is more than just being tired all the time, says palliative medicine specialist Dr. Stewart Fleishman. To learn more about cancer fatigue and how to cope with it, watch this video.