Real Solutions for Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancer causes many symptoms, depending on the type and severity of the disease, and cancer treatments may produce side effects that range from very mild to debilitating. One of the most common effects of cancer and cancer treatment is fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue can be persistent—even lasting well beyond the end of treatment—and may significantly interfere with your daily activities and quality of life.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer-related fatigue is one of the most troublesome and prevalent adverse effects of cancer. Fatigue can indicate disease progression or even be an early symptom of cancer.

Seventy-five to 90 percent of patients undergoing chemotherapy experience fatigue, and it tends to increase over the course of treatment. About two-thirds of patients receiving radiation treatment also experience fatigue.

Cancer-related fatigue tends to come on faster and be more draining, more intense, and last longer than typical fatigue. Several factors may contribute to cancer-related fatigue, including:

  • Anemia
  • Cancer treatment
  • Nutritional deficiency from nausea and vomiting
  • Tumor size
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Medications

Cancer experts are still not sure if these factors are the underlying cause of fatigue, or a result of fatigue.

Oncologists take cancer-related fatigue seriously, and researchers are conducting clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of different interventions. In the meantime, you can take steps to reduce the severity of your fatigue.

Exercise. Numerous studies have evaluated the role of exercise in relieving cancer-related fatigue. Regardless of the study type or design, researchers have consistently found that exercise does have a positive effect on increasing physical activity and energy level.

Practice yoga. In 2010, the results of Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS) found that incorporating a yoga practice improves sleep and patients' overall quality of life, and reduces fatigue and medication intake. While earlier studies provided preliminary support for the value of yoga for cancer-related fatigue, YOCAS was the largest randomized controlled study (the gold standard for research studies).

Treat anemia if you have it. Anemia compromises the body's ability to deliver sufficient oxygen to all the cells, and radiation and chemotherapy can worsen this problem.

Make lifestyle modifications. In addition to exercising and remaining active, eat and drink well and take time to rest when needed. Be willing to let others help when you need it.

Talk to your physician about other alternatives to relieve your cancer-related fatigue.

 


 

Sources:

National Cancer Institute. "Fatigue (PDQ®)." Web. 25 July 2011.
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/fatigue/Patient

National Cancer Institute. "Fatigue (Feeling Weak and Very Tired)." Web. 12 November 2008.
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemo-side-effects/fatigue

Calabrich, Aknar, and Katz, Artur. "Management of Anemia in Cancer Patients." Future Oncology 7(4) (2011): 507-517. Web. 17 May 2011.
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/740469

National Cancer Institute. "Chemotherapy side effects." Web.
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemo-side-effects

Smith, K.B., and Pukall, C.F. "An evidence-based review of yoga as a complementary intervention for patients with cancer." Pyschooncology 18(5) (2009): 465-75. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18821529

Nelson, Roxanne. "Yoga Practice Improves Sleep Quality and Reduces Fatigue in Cancer Survivors." Medscape Medical News. Web. 26 May 2010. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/722387

Bower, Julienne E., Ph.D., Woolery, Alison, MA, Sternlieb, Beth, and Garet Deborah, MPH. "Yoga for Cancer Patients and Survivors. Cancer Control 12(3) (2005): 165-171. Web. http://www.moffitt.org/CCJRoot/v12n3/pdf/165.pdf

Cassileth, Barrie, Heitzer, Marjet, and Gubili, Jyothirmai. "Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care." Cancer Chemotherapy Review 3(4) (2008): 204-211. Medscape Medical News. Web. 12 February 2009.

de Nijs, Ellen J. M.,CNS, MSc, Ros, Winand, PhD, and Grijpdonck, Mieke H. PhD. "Nursing Intervention for Fatigue During the Treatment for Cancer." Cancer Nursing 31(3) (2008): 191-206. Web. 6 June 2008.
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/574716

Hitt, Emma, PhD. "Exercise Intervention Improves Fatigue, Other Outcomes in Cancer Patients." Medscape Medical News. Web. 12 March 2010 .
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/718410