Fatigue and Cancer Treatment
What is fatigue?
People often describe fatigue as feeling extremely tired, weak, heavy, run down, and having no energy. Resting does not always help with cancer-related fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most difficult side effects for many people with cancer to cope with.
What causes fatigue in people with cancer?
There are many causes of fatigue. Fatigue is a common side effect of many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, and surgery. Conditions such as anemia, as well as pain, medications, and emotions, can also cause or worsen fatigue.
Ways to manage fatigue
Tell your health care team if you feel extremely tired and are not able to do your normal activities or are very tired even after resting or sleeping. Keeping track of your levels of energy throughout the day will help your doctor to assess your fatigue. Write down how fatigue affects your daily activities and what makes the fatigue better or worse.
You may be advised to take these and other steps to feel better:
- Make a plan that balances rest and activity. Choose activities that are relaxing for you. Many people choose to listen to music, read, meditate, practice guided imagery, or spend time with people they enjoy. Relaxing can help you save your energy and lower stress. Light exercise may also be advised by your doctor to give you more energy and help you feel better.
- Plan time to rest. If you are tired, take short naps of less than 1 hour during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night. Choose the activities that are most important to you and do them when you have the most energy. Ask for help with important tasks such as making meals or driving.
- Eat and drink well. Meet with a registered dietitian to learn about foods and drinks that can increase your level of energy. Foods high in protein and calories will help you keep up your strength. Some people find it easier to eat many small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals. Stay well hydrated. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Meet with a specialist. It may help to meet with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These experts help people to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Lowering stress may give you more energy. Since pain that is not controlled can also be major source of fatigue, it may help to meet with a pain or palliative care specialist.
NCI's Fatigue PDQ® summary has more information on how fatigue is assessed and treated. View the patient or health professional version.
Talking with your health care team about fatigue
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- What is most likely causing my fatigue?
- What should I keep track of and share so we can develop a plan to help me feel better?
- What types of exercise (and how much) do you recommend for me?
- How much rest should I have during the day? How much sleep should I get at night?
- What food and drinks are best for me?
- Are there treatments or medicines that could help me feel better?
What to do about fatigue caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy.
(Type: MP3 | Time: 2:50 | Size: 2.7MB)
Radiation Therapy Audio Transcript
What To Do When You Feel Weak, Tired, or Worn Out (Fatigue)
What to do when you feel very tired during radiation therapy.
Feeling weak, tired, or worn out? This is called fatigue. Most people getting radiation therapy feel fatigued.
It does not mean that your cancer is getting worse.
It does not mean that the treatment is not working.
In fact, it is normal to feel very tired during this time.
Listen to some tips that have helped others like you who are receiving radiation therapy. Try some of them to have more energy.
Know your limits.
My doctor said taking care of myself should be my top priority right now. I had to make choices about how much I could handle each day. For example, if my son had a baseball game at night, I would skip running errands that day so I would have enough energy to see him play.
Plan when and if you'll work.
Although I felt pretty tired, I still needed to go to work. I was able to talk with my boss, and we planned a work schedule around my treatments. A friend in my support group didn't have the energy to keep working. He was able to take some medical leave during his treatment. Plan a work schedule that is right for you.
Be active during the day.
I asked my doctor what I could do to stop feeling so tired and worn out. She told me that getting a little exercise, for even a short amount of time every day, could actually give me more energy. I took her advice and found that I felt better when I stayed active. I started with short walks, and before I knew it, I was walking 45 minutes a day. I was surprised to learn how much a little exercise helped.
Keep naps short.
I take a nap each day, but my doctor told me to keep naps short – less than 1 hour at a time. This is long enough for me to feel rested, but I am still able to sleep 8 hours each night.
Let's review some tips that can help you feel less tired.
First, slow down – try to do fewer things. Make choices about how much you can handle each day.
Next, decide if you can work. If you are able to work, plan a work schedule around your treatments.
Try to be active each day. Take a short walk. Staying active will give you more energy.
And take short naps – no longer than 1 hour at a time.
Lastly, talk with your doctor or nurse if you still feel very tired after trying these tips. They may have other suggestions or treatments that can help.