Published: Mar. 28, 2007
Updated: Aug. 22, 2011
Chronic fatigue is one of the most common problems for cancer patients. People describe this symptom in many ways: tired, weak, sad, bored, no energy, exhausted, depressed, and unable to concentrate.
Unlike acute fatigue that is relieved with rest, chronic fatigue is related to medical conditions or treatments and is not relieved by rest. Almost all patients have some fatigue after surgery. Many things can cause this: blood loss, bedrest or decreased activity, medicines, and sadness due to diagnosis of cancer.
Fatigue is also a common side effect during and after chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It can last a few weeks or even for several months. Chronic fatigue interferes with your life and simple tasks such as shaving or brushing your teeth may seem impossible to do.
Fatigue is often caused by more than one problem. Two types of approaches are used to manage fatigue.
The first approach is to find any causes for fatigue that can be treated. Some treatable problems that cause fatigue are anemia (low red blood cell counts), emotional distress or depression, sleep difficulties, poor nutrition, pain, and low thyroid gland function.
The second approach is to conserve your energy, cope with stress, and restore your ability to focus.
Contact your health care team if you have any of the following:
Cancer-Related Fatigue Treatment Guidelines for Patients (PDF)
National guidelines describing cancer-related chronic fatigue, including assessment, management of medical causes, and self-care. Available from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network online or toll-free at 888-909-NCCN or 888-909-6226
Activities to Help Cancer Patients Restore Focus and Attention
Teaching sheet available online under ‘self care guides’ at http://cancer.duke.edu/pated/ or ask your Duke nurse for a copy
Share the Care: How to Organize a Group to Care for Someone Who is Seriously Ill
by Cappy Capossela, Sheila Warnock, Sukie Miller. Available to check out from the Duke Cancer Patient and Family Resource Center or purchase from your favorite bookseller.
Don’t Let Stress Get the Best of You
Workbook created by Duke nurses to help you identify and manage sources of stress in your life. Available to inpatients through the Stress Management consult nurses or through the Duke Cancer Patient and Family Resource Center.
This article is intended as a resource for patients receiving their cancer care at Duke University Hospital or Duke Clinic. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice from your health care team. If your doctor’s instructions differ from the information in this article, please talk with your doctor before making any changes.
Source: Duke Cancer Patient Education Program / approved Patient & Family Education Committee 9/05