Cancer related fatigue is one of the most serious side effects common to cancer sufferers. Recent studies reveal that up to 90% of cancer patients undergoing treatment suffer from cancer related fatigue. It is a condition that can be both physically debilitating and emotionally devastating, robbing patients of their ability to function in everyday life and destroying their sense of well-being.

Cancer fatigue can be caused by one or more factors including:

  • Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplants, hormonal and biological treatments all may contribute to fatigue. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy create collateral damage by destroying the red blood cells surrounding the cancerous cells that they are targeting. The resulting lowered red blood cell count sometimes leads to a fatigue-inducing condition known as anemia. Damage to healthy tissue from chemotherapy and radiation therapy also can bring about fatigue as the body attempts to repair damaged cells. Hormonal and biological treatments sometimes bring about chemical and hormonal imbalances that can also fatigue patients.
  • Your Cancer: The destructive force of cancer itself can bring about fatigue. In some forms, it will cause cells in the body to release chemicals called cytokines which throw the body’s metabolic system off-track. This may lead to a condition called cachexia, which is known to cause fatigue. Cancer that has spread to bone marrow also may cause anemia.
  • Pain: Prolonged periods of pain may lead to depression and fatigue. Most prescribed pain medications have sedative effects which also may contribute to lower energy levels and fatigue.
  • Poor Nutrition: Proper nutrition is crucial in maintaining energy levels. Several factors can contribute to a decline in nutritional health of those living with cancer. Cancer cells can rob healthy cells of nutrients. Changes in lifestyle and schedule can cause patients to adopt less than optimal eating habits. Metabolic changes also may make it difficult to maintain proper nutrition. Treatments that lead to nausea may cause patients to lose their appetites.
  • Emotional Distress: The prolonged effects of the day to day struggle with cancer may lead patients to emotional exhaustion, depression, and fatigue. Job, family, and financial stress can all contribute to a general breakdown in mental well-being.
  • Inactivity: Cancer’s limiting effects may hinder daily activities, exercise, and travel which, in turn, may lead to depression and/or fatigue.
  • Sleeplessness: Cancer and cancer treatment can cause dramatic schedule changes that disrupt normal sleeping patterns. Stress, nausea, tension may also contribute to insomnia or interrupted sleep and create both mental and physical fatigue.

Because fatigue is a subjective experience, it is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The following are signs of cancer fatigue:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by common, everyday activities
  • Experiencing disinterest in day-to-day activities
  • Lacking energy even after a good night’s rest
  • Feeling mentally hazy and/or unable to concentrate
  • Spending a lot of time sleeping or lying in bed
  • Feeling emotionally volatile or fragile
  • Lacking motivation

Managing cancer fatigue is crucial to a patient’s well-being and recovery. Treatment generally must occur on multiple levels and may include medication to treat depression or anemia, nutritional programs, exercise, and psychological therapy. It is important that cancer patients pay close attention to how they are feeling and be proactive about alerting their physicians to potential problems.


Management of mesothelioma.