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Tiredness (Fatigue), ASCO's curriculum

This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial Board, 05/05

Fatigue is extreme exhaustion and tiredness and is the most common problem that people with cancer experience. In fact, more than half of patients experience fatigue during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and up to 70% of people with advanced cancer experience this side effect.


People who feel fatigue often say that even a small effort, such as walking across a room, can seem like too much. Fatigue can seriously affect a person's daily activities, including the ability to work, be involved with their family, or socialize. Fatigue may cause people to avoid or skip cancer treatments and may even affect their will to live.

It is common for fatigue to appear after treatment at the following times:

  • A few days after chemotherapy treatment
  • A few weeks after beginning radiation treatment
  • After treatment with immunotherapy (also known as biologic therapy), such as alpha-interferon (Roferon-A, Intron A, Alferon N) and interleukins (Proleukin or Oprelvekin)

Diagnosis

It is important to tell your doctor that you are experiencing fatigue. To understand your fatigue, your doctor may ask you at what times you feel especially tired and whether the fatigue affects your ability to perform regular activities. You may even be asked to describe your fatigue on a scale from "no fatigue" to "most fatigue." Sometimes, other conditions may contribute to fatigue, including pain, depression, or insomnia. Your doctor may also take a blood sample to determine whether anemia (low number of red blood cells) or another problem may be causing fatigue.

Managing fatigue

The following suggestions may help you better manage fatigue:

  • Exercise regularly. People who exercise experience less fatigue overall and report improvement in appetite, weight, bowel habits, strength, and self-image. It can start with something simple, such as walking a few minutes a day.
  • Conserve your energy. Choose a time of day when you have more energy for daily activities, prioritize activities, and do strenuous things during the time of day when you have the most energy.
  • Seek treatment for depression, pain, sleep disorders, or other conditions that may be adding to your fatigue.

In addition, the drug epoetin (Epogen, Procrit) has been proven to increase energy levels in people with anemia, which may contribute to fatigue. Talk with your doctor for more information.

More Information

Anemia


PLWC: Managing Side Effects


PLWC Feature: Coping With Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancersymptoms.org: Fatigue

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