What is Cancer Fatigue?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2018
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Cancer fatigue is a common condition in patients undergoing treatment for cancer and related symptoms. Patients often experience some degree of tiredness and weakness during their treatment. For some individuals, fatigue is mild and short-lived, though some people must deal with exhaustion and fatigue for months or even years after therapy has ceased. Cancer fatigue can be caused by the side effects of medications and treatment, the cancer itself, or the general life stresses encountered during the entire process.

Many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can cause physical changes that manifest as cancer fatigue. Modern radiation treatments are designed to seek out and destroy cancerous cells, though normal cells are often damaged or destroyed in the process. A lack of healthy cells means that blood flow and body functions suffer, leading to exhaustion and weakness. Surgical treatments such as blood, bone marrow, and organ transplants put excess strain on the body, especially the immune and cardiovascular systems, which can result in feelings of fatigue. In addition, medications intended to sedate individuals and control pain often carry fatigue-causing side effects.

In many cases, cancer is the direct cause of fatigue in individuals. Cancer can affect hormone and nutrient levels, muscle strength, and bone density, as well as set the stage for chronic pain, headaches, and anemia. Cancerous cells can also influence the creation and release of the protein cytokine, which effects immune system functioning and leads to weariness.


Cancer fatigue is common in individuals who have struggled to cope with their symptoms and stresses for a long time. Many cancer patients experience such high levels of stress and worry that they have difficulty sleeping, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet. Individuals may experience stress and fatigue as they try to manage bills, go to work, make appointments with specialists, and deal with friends and family members.

An individual who is experiencing cancer fatigue for any reason should consult their oncologist or primary care physician to determine the most appropriate means of relieving symptoms. Doctors can analyze the nature of fatigue symptoms and adjust treatment strategies accordingly. When general stress is determined to be the cause of exhaustion, the physician might prescribe a healthier diet and exercise routine or refer the patient to a psychologist who specializes in cancer therapy. A qualified psychologist can help an individual come to terms with his or her condition and come up with strategies to subdue cancer fatigue.



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