Overcoming Cancer Fatigue: Why Does it Happen and What to do about it?

Fatigue is a common problem shared by many cancer patients. This constant and excessive lack of energy often keeps them from enjoying simple day-to-day activities, such as going out of the house, being around people, or even simply climbing up and down the stairs. But why does this extreme feeling of exhaustion occur in the first place? 

Below is a brief guide on what causes this condition and what are the healthy ways to deal with it. Read on.

What is cancer fatigue?

Cancer-related fatigue, also called cancer fatigue, refers to the chronic and excessive feelings of tiredness and weakness that affect people with cancer. The condition arises as a symptom of the disease and a side-effect of common cancer treatment methods, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

To date, about 80% to 100% of cancer patients are said to experience cancer-related fatigue that affects their overall quality of life.

How does it differ from ordinary fatigue?

Cancer fatigue differs from ordinary fatigue in many ways. You can distinguish one from the other on the following points:

  • Cancer fatigue is more severe

Fatigue is a normal occurrence among people of different backgrounds, especially after a long and tiring day. It is ordinarily described as an extreme feeling of physical or mental tiredness or both. When one feels weary and worn-out, a long good night’s rest or a relaxing activity usually is sufficient to recharge the person and overcome fatigue.

However, the same is not the case for people experiencing cancer fatigue. The latter is often described as overwhelming and even “paralyzing.” It usually often lasts for more than two (2) weeks and may persist despite long hours of rest. Consequently, cancer fatigue poses a higher risk of disrupting a person’s day-to-day routine and lifestyle. 

  • Ordinary fatigue is usually caused by mental or physical exertion; Cancer fatigue is not

Generally, fatigue arises due to strenuous activities. One may feel extremely tired, weak, and sluggish after a long day at work, playing a physical sport, or simply doing any vigorous task requiring physical and mental efforts. 

However, the same is not the case for cancer-related fatigue. People experiencing the said condition often feel extremely tired and weak despite their lack of engagement in strenuous activities. One may even spend a whole day in bed and still wake up feeling drained and weak.

  • Cancer fatigue reoccurs and lasts longer 

Another distinguishing point between ordinary fatigue and cancer-related fatigue is their length and tendency of occurrence. The former usually lasts for a few days and disappears after sufficient rest and sleep. Meanwhile, the latter may last for weeks, disappear, and then return again.

What causes cancer fatigue?

There is no sufficient data as to what causes cancer-related fatigue. But doctors and scientists identified several factors that are likely related to the occurrence of the said condition. Among these factors include:

  • Cancer itself. 

Cancer may trigger different changes in your body that may cause fatigue. These changes include the reduced production of red blood cells, resulting in anemia and loss of appetite, leading to substantial weight loss. Chronic pain due to cancer may also cause your body to feel exhausted. All these factors contribute to making the body feel tired and weak.

  • Treatments

Common cancer treatment methods, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, normally cause fatigue. In the case of chemo and radiation therapy, said methods work by killing and destroying cancer cells. However, surrounding healthy cells may also be affected. As a result, the body will feel weak and exhausted. In addition to that, the body will also need to give extra effort to heal and recover after treatment.

  • Stress

Stress, anxiety, and depression may also cause your energy levels to dip. As a result, you’ll feel extra tired and weak.

Since the condition is believed to be caused by varying factors, a concerted efforted between physicians, dieticians, and even therapists is often needed to help manage and overcome cancer-related fatigue.

What to do about it?

Fortunately, while cancer fatigue is common, there are still ways to manage the condition and make it less likely to interfere with the patient’s quality of life. Among the best ways to deal with cancer-related fatigue include the following:

  • Set consistent and sufficient rest periods.

True enough, cancer patients may still feel tired and exhausted despite spending a whole day in bed. However, this doesn’t mean that resting and sleeping aren’t necessary to combat cancer fatigue. Getting sufficient rest each day can help speed up the patient’s recovery, provide him with enough strength to prepare for the next round of treatment, and allow him to destress and chill.

  • Exercise

Many studies have tackled the key role of exercise in cancer fatigue management. In a 2012 research, aerobic exercise, resistance training, as well as mindfulness-based exercises like yoga and Tai Chi Chuan are found effective in managing cancer-related fatigue, cognitive impairment, sleep problems, depression, and more. You may talk to your doctor to know more about the proper exercise program that will suit your condition.

  • Improve your diet

Nutrition is important as your body fights off possible infections and recovers from treatments. A healthy diet is also essential to keep the body strong and loaded with energy. A dietitian can help create a diet plan that will suit the patient’s current condition and needs.

  • Consider getting therapy and/or counseling

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common among cancer patients. Said conditions are taxing to both a person’s mind and body, contributing to a constant feeling of fatigue. Talking to a certified psychologist or therapist may help the patient know how to properly cope with the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.

The Bottom Line

Cancer affects both our minds and bodies. If you have been diagnosed with cancer or know someone who has the disease, it’s best to see a medical professional to understand how to adequately address fatigue and other common symptoms related to cancer.

New Hope Medical Center provides a cancer treatment program that combines conventional and alternative medical treatments. Call us at 480-473-9808 to know more!

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