COVID-19 Updates | We are still seeing patients. Telemedicine visits are available for current patients.


Living with Cancer Fatigue: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

May 20, 2024

Cancer Care

cancer fatigue

Cancer patients face immense challenges daily. One of the most common and debilitating side effects is cancer-related fatigue. This persistent tiredness goes beyond feeling sleepy and can significantly impact your daily life. Let's understand everything about cancer fatigue, its symptoms, causes, and effective management strategies to help you regain energy and improve your quality of life.

What Is Cancer Fatigue?

Cancer fatigue is a distinct type of exhaustion that differs from everyday tiredness. It's a persistent, overwhelming feeling of physical, emotional, and mental fatigue that doesn't improve significantly with rest. It can significantly disrupt your daily activities, work, relationships, and overall well-being. According to the American Cancer Society, 80-100% of cancer patients report having fatigue.

Cancer Fatigue Symptoms and Causes

Cancer fatigue can manifest in various ways, impacting your physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities. Some common symptoms include:

  • Physical: Extreme tiredness, muscle weakness, difficulty sleeping (or sleeping too much), decreased appetite, weight loss or gain, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath
  • Emotional: Apathy, irritability, difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, depression
  • Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, problems with memory

The exact cause of cancer fatigue remains unclear, but several factors are likely at play:

  • Cancer itself: The release of inflammatory proteins by cancer cells can contribute to fatigue.
  • Treatment side effects: Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and other treatments can damage healthy cells, leading to fatigue.
  • Anemia: Cancer treatments can decrease red blood cell production, leading to oxygen deficiency and fatigue.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Poor appetite or difficulty absorbing nutrients can contribute to fatigue.
  • Pain: Uncontrolled pain can significantly drain your energy.
  • Sleep problems: Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much can disrupt your energy levels.
  • Stress and anxiety: Cancer and its treatment can cause significant stress and anxiety, which can worsen fatigue.

How Long Does Cancer Fatigue Last?

The duration of cancer fatigue varies significantly. Some patients experience it throughout treatment, while others feel it only after treatment is completed. Additionally, some patients may continue to experience fatigue for months or even years after treatment ends.

How Is Fatigue Diagnosed?

There isn't a specific test for diagnosing cancer fatigue. Your medical doctor will likely discuss your symptoms, medical history, and current treatments to determine if fatigue is cancer-related. They may also perform blood tests to rule out other potential causes of fatigue, like anemia or thyroid problems.

Management and Treatments for Cancer Fatigue

While there's no cure for cancer fatigue, several strategies can help manage it and improve your quality of life. These include:

  • Energy conservation: Focus on prioritizing activities and pacing yourself to avoid overexertion. Delegate tasks, ask for help, and schedule rest periods throughout the day.
  • Healthy sleep habits: Establish a regular sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensure a comfortable sleep environment.
  • Exercise: Regular, gentle exercise like walking or yoga can increase energy levels and improve sleep quality. Start slowly and gradually increase duration and intensity as tolerated.
  • Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Stress management: Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and relaxation therapy can help manage stress and improve sleep, leading to increased energy.
  • Pain management: Effectively managing cancer pain with medications or other therapies can significantly improve fatigue levels.
  • Medications: In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicines like stimulants or medications to address underlying conditions contributing to fatigue.

Ways to Cope with Cancer-Related Fatigue

Coping with cancer fatigue goes beyond just managing symptoms. Here are some additional tips to navigate the emotional and practical challenges:

  • Talk to your doctor openly: Communicate your fatigue level and its impact on your daily life.
  • Connect with a support group: Sharing your experiences with others who understand can be incredibly helpful.
  • Set realistic goals: Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.
  • Maintain social connections: Don't isolate yourself. Spend time with loved ones who can offer support and understanding.
  • Be kind to yourself: Accept that you have limitations during this time. Prioritize rest and self-care.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If your fatigue is severe and interferes with your daily activities, worsens over time, or is not relieved by rest or management strategies, consult your doctor immediately. They can assess your condition, adjust medications if needed, and rule out other potential causes of your fatigue.

Take Control of Your Cancer Fatigue with Chesapeake Oncology-Hematology Associates

Don't let fatigue hold you back! Take control of your energy and improve your quality of life with Chesapeake Oncology-Hematology Associates. Contact us today to discuss personalized strategies to manage your cancer fatigue. Call us at (855) 920-1230 to schedule an appointment and learn how we can work together to boost your energy levels.

New Patient Registration Request an Appointment