Sep 29, 2021 9:00 AM

Read time: 3 minutes


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It is common to be tired when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Cancer and its various treatments often cause cancer-related fatigue. The fatigue goes beyond just feeling exhausted. It can be overwhelming and could lower your ability to do daily activities. Resting doesn’t always help, and it can take a while for fatigue to get better, even after treatment ends. It is important to remember that fatigue is very common.

What are symptoms of cancer-related fatigue?

  • General weakness or limb heaviness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Memory issues
  • Less interest in usual activities
  • Difficulty doing daily tasks
  • Sleeping issues and feeling tired after waking up

What causes cancer-related fatigue?

There may be several causes for your fatigue.

  • Cancer treatments
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation
    • Surgery
    • Immunotherapy
    • Hormone therapy
  • Anemia
  • Medications
  • Emotional distress or depression
  • Infection
  • Nutrition problems
    • Loss of appetite
    • Dehydration
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Other illnesses

Although it is common, it is important to discuss your fatigue with your health care team. They will review your overall health to find out if other factors could be making the fatigue worse.

Your health care team can recommend medicines to improve your energy level, or help you sleep. Be sure to talk to your care team before taking any over-the-counter medicines, and keep them updated about how you feel, especially if you notice any sudden changes.

How can I manage my cancer-related fatigue?

  • Physical activity
    • While it may seem contradictory, light exercise can improve your fatigue.
    • Consult with your health care team before starting any kind of exercise.
    • Exercise early in the day instead of before bed.
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
    • Avoid caffeine
    • Save your energy
  • Set priorities and give tasks to others who offer help.
  • Take short naps and rest often. Avoid sleeping too much during the day.
  • Use a cane or walker for assistance, if you need it.
  • Find relaxing activities
  • Get together with small groups of friends and family for short periods of time.
  • Share your feelings and experiences by keeping a journal, or joining a support group.
  • Listen to music.
  • If it is hard to concentrate, read short stories and articles.
  • Stay connected with friends and family.
  • Go outside to bird watch or visit a park.

If you feel overwhelmed, it may help to remember

  • Fatigue is normal during cancer treatment.
  • Fatigue does not mean your cancer is getting worse.
  • Fatigue does not mean treatment is not working.
  • Fatigue is not caused by a lack of willpower. It is OK to ask for help if you need it!

What resources are available at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) that can help with cancer-related fatigue?

The Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center at HCI offers many services that can help with fatigue. These include one-on-one exercise programs with a cancer exercise specialist, group fitness classes, acupuncture, dietitians, and more. Contact them at 801-587-4585.

Mental health can have an impact on your cancer-related fatigue. At HCI, our Patient & Family Support social workers help you deal with your feelings and concerns. They are an important part of your care team. Patient and Family Support social workers can be reached at 801-213-5699.

You can also contact the G. Mitchell Morris Cancer Learning Center at 1-888-424-2100.

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