Fatigue is a very common problem for persons with cancer. It can be caused by anemia, accumulation of waste products from the cell destruction caused by radiation or chemotherapy treatments, protein-calorie malnutrition, disruption of sleep patterns, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and the stress of coping with the disease.
Although most patients find they can do everything they did before the cancer developed, some must give up certain activities. People with cancer should realize that fatigue is an expected, temporary side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is not necessarily an indication that the cancer is increasing in size or that metastasis is occurring. When the treatment plan is complete, fatigue will gradually diminish.
Persons with fatigue may find it easier if they:
- Rest more often. A rest period prior to or after cancer therapy and sleeping later in the morning or going to bed earlier at night are usually beneficial. Minimizing noise and other distractions and using relaxation techniques may also be helpful.
- Maintain as closely as possible their usual lifestyle, but pace their activities according to their energy level. They should avoid doing too much too soon, but gradually increase their activity level as they begin to feel better. Slowing down to maintain a normal range of activities can keep patients from becoming depressed about giving up things they enjoy, which can lead to more fatigue.
- Plan consistent periods of active exercise if they are able to tolerate it.
- Drink adequate fluids, at least eight to ten glasses a day, to keep cellular waste products from accumulating.
- Work part-time if a full schedule is no longer feasible. Some employers will encourage this to avoid losing a valued employee.
- Have their physician or nurse telephone the employer to explain the ; necessity for rest periods or absences for medical treatment during the day.
- Delegate household tasks such as child care, meal preparation, housework, and home maintenance to other family members or friends, or hire services if possible.