And, because there’s no way to test for cancer-related fatigue, it
tends to be underdiagnosed.
The good news is that it’s possible to alleviate cancer-related
fatigue. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of fatigue, you can
empower yourself to discuss this side effect with your care team and
Here’s what you should know about cancer fatigue, according to our
clinical nurse Kim Kitchen.
Cancer-related fatigue is different from the fatigue
experienced by healthy people
When healthy people are fatigued from their daily activities, extra
rest typically helps. But that’s not always the case for cancer
patients. That’s because fatigue can be caused by many cancer
treatments, as well as the cancer itself and even other side effects.
And that means cancer-related fatigue can last for long periods – and
that cancer patients may get tired more easily and by exerting less
energy than fatigued healthy individuals.
Cancer and cancer treatment put you at risk for fatigue
Part of the reason fatigue is so common among cancer patients is
because it can be caused by so many different aspects of the cancer
experience. This includes:
- Cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, surgery and even recovery
- Anemia, a common side effect of
Loss of appetite, which may be caused by nausea and vomiting and can keep you from
getting enough nutrients, such as vitamin B12, folic acid, iron and
- Medications, such as those prescribed for depression,
pain, sleep and nausea
Insomnia, another common cancer treatment side
- Anxiety, depression and other mood disturbances, which
are often triggered by a cancer diagnosis or treatment
decline in physical activity
It’s possible to manage cancer fatigue
Cancer-related fatigue can affect your quality of life and make it
harder for your body to heal from cancer treatment. So it’s important
to try to manage your cancer-related fatigue. Here’s what Kitchen recommends.
- Get rest, but not too much. Opt for small rest breaks or naps
between activities instead of one big nap. That’s because too much
rest may make you even drowsier or make it difficult to sleep at
- Accept help from others. When people offer to help,
take them on it. Let them do things like go to the grocery for you,
mow your lawn or drive your kids to school and activities. This way,
you can conserve your energy for when you need it.
a healthy diet. This can be hard during cancer treatment, especially
if you’re dealing with appetite loss or nausea, but do your best to
eat enough protein and calories so that your body can get healthy.
If you are having trouble getting enough calories and are an MD Anderson patient, ask a member of your
care team to refer you to a dietitian.
- Distract yourself.
Dance, watch TV, listen to music or read a good book to distract
yourself from the fatigue. Doing something you enjoy may also boost
- Exercise. Though you’re tired, exercise is the
best way to reduce cancer-related fatigue. Kitchens recommends
taking a brisk walk, or trying cycling, swimming, aerobics, strength
training or resistance training – basically, whatever it takes to
get you moving, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Bonus: exercise
will also help you sleep better and boost your mood.
- Keep a
fatigue journal so you can start to see
patterns and prioritize your activities.
MD Anderson has resources to help you
manage your cancer fatigue
You don’t have to try to manage cancer fatigue alone. Talk to your
doctor about the fatigue symptoms you’re experiencing. And, if you’re
an MD Anderson patient, ask your doctor to
refer you to our Cancer-Related Fatigue Clinic. Our team of
doctors and nurses will work with you to develop a comprehensive,
personalized plan for managing your fatigue so you can get back to
living your life faster.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by