Overcoming Cancer Fatigue

Cancer fatigue can be debilitating but guidelines to improve it can help patients cope

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The exhaustion that comes with cancer may feel like an unmovable brick wall, but it doesn’t have to. There are strategic guidelines to help patients battle fatigue successfully.

Recently, researchers surveyed 160 cancer patients about whether they had been counseled on how to handle serious fatigue. Most had not.

“Fatigue is a factor that not only significantly diminishes quality of life but is also associated with reduced survival. Our results suggest that cancer patients are not receiving appropriate treatment for a significant and widespread problem,” said lead author.

"Talk to your doctor about fatigue management."

Andrea Cheville, MD, a psychiatrist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, was the lead author of the investigation. For the study, 160 end-stage lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer patients were surveyed about their fatigue. The average score was a 6.4 on an 11-point scale for fatigue.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has a set of guidelines to address fatigue management strategies. Participants were asked about whether they had been presented with those strategies by healthcare professionals.

The survey’s findings revealed that patients were presented with NCCN strategies as follows:

  • General management strategies, including stress reduction techniques, at 17 percent
  • Increasing activity at 12 percent
  • Psychosocial strategies, including counseling, at 10 percent
  • Pharmaceuticals, such as sleep aids, at 37 percent

Researchers found that reporting greater than a 7 on the 11-point fatigue scale did increase the chance of receiving instruction in the area of activity enhancement, but not in any other area.

Previous studies have shown that moderate physical activity, like walking, and stress reduction and coping strategies did help cancer patients with fatigue.

Authors noticed neither age nor gender predicted whether they had been advised of NCCN guidelines, but cancer type did.

  • Colon cancer at 15 percent
  • Prostate cancer at 17 percent
  • Breast cancer at 48 percent, for psychosocial intervention specifically

Dr. Cheville said, “We could be doing a much better job addressing fatigue, with more reliable instruction for patients and offering treatments that have been shown to work.”

Authors recommended training specialists in the medical field for supportive care to accompany cancer treatment that focuses on depression, pain and fatigue management and so forth.

This study was published in August in Supportive Care in Cancer. Funding was supported by a grant from the US Department of Defense. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
December 21, 2012