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How to Manage & Treat Cancer-Related Fatigue

What is Cancer Fatigue?

Cancer fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and its treatments, and it can be a debilitating symptom that can affect almost every aspect of a person’s life. It is estimated that up to 95% of people experience fatigue at some point during or following their cancer treatment.

The causes of cancer fatigue can be complex and multifactorial. Cancer itself can cause fatigue, as can the treatments used to fight it, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Additionally, the emotional and psychological toll of cancer can contribute to fatigue. 

Recognizing the profound impact cancer fatigue has on daily life, it becomes essential to understand its roots and explore effective strategies for managing it. Living with cancer fatigue requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments. In this article, we explore practical ways to mitigate symptoms and enhance quality of life.

Managing & Coping with Cancer Fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue can be effectively managed and treated through a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and medical interventions. Due to the complex nature of cancer-related fatigue, a treatment that works for one individual may not necessarily work for another.   It is crucial for patients to collaborate with their healthcare providers in order to develop a personalized plan that caters to their unique needs.  Patients should consider the following tips:

  • Exercise: Based on the latest and most rigorous research, exercise therapy is overwhelmingly the most effective therapy for treating and preventing cancer-related fatigue.  This may seem counter-intuitive; however, the broad health benefits of performing regular exercises, such as walking, biking, or strength training, work together to simultaneously address virtually all of the treatable causes of cancer-related fatigue.  In addition to directly reducing fatigue itself, other benefits of exercise therapy reported in clinical studies include increased cancer survival, improved cardiovascular and muscular health, reduced risk of cancer recurrence, fewer and less severe symptoms during therapy, and improved mood, quality of life, and physical performance.  With appropriate guidance from your healthcare team, exercise therapy is a safe and effective treatment for almost everyone.
  • Psychological Interventions: Psychological interventions, such as counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques, may help reduce fatigue, treat several of the main causes of fatigue, and improve overall quality of life in people living with and after cancer.  Anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness are commonly associated with cancer-related fatigue, and studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between emotional challenges and fatigue.  Counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy by licensed healthcare professionals can help with coping strategies and alleviate stress associated with fatigue.  Like exercise therapy, behavioural therapies benefit most individuals during and after cancer treatment.
  • Diet:  A healthy diet during and after cancer treatment may help prevent and reduce fatigue by providing the body with nutrients it needs to function optimally.  For some individuals, consultation with a registered dietician to discuss strategies and meals appropriate for you may help with fatigue-related symptoms.  Patients should aim for a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Some studies suggest that certain vitamins, such as vitamin D and B12, may also help alleviate fatigue in cancer patients.
  • Sleep: Many people living with and after cancer also report significant disturbances in sleep patterns that may be exacerbating their fatigue.  Although cancer-related fatigue is NOT caused by a lack of sleep, meaning that no amount of sleep will make you feel rested, good sleep hygiene, such as going to bed at a consistent time and having a good pre-bed routine, can help reduce some symptoms of fatigue.  Sleep-supporting therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, counselling and educational, can provide information on how to best address your sleep throughout the day and during the night that may assist in fatigue management.
  • Physical Therapies: Cancer and its treatments may also cause pain, contributing to fatigue. Tumours can cause pain as they grow and damage parts of your body or press on organs, nerves or bones.  Cancer treatments and medical tests can also cause pain, depending on which areas are treated.  Physiotherapy, acupuncture, and massage therapy can help manage musculoskeletal, joint, and neurological pain through physical modalities and rehabilitative exercises.  If pain is causing a decrease in your functional status, occupational therapy may be useful to give you strategies and/or tools to help with your daily activities.
  • Medication: Many medications used to treat cancer, manage the symptoms caused by cancer treatments, or manage other health conditions (e.g. heart conditions) may directly or indirectly contribute to your fatigue. Occasionally, medications may be prescribed, such as stimulants, antidepressants, or sleeping medication, that may be useful in helping to address some of the underlying causes of fatigue or manage its symptoms. It is important to maintain open communication and work closely with your oncologist/family doctor to explore opportunities to adjust medication types and doses if the benefits of changing outweigh the risks. Importantly, research has found medication to be the least effective therapy at addressing cancer-related fatigue, with little evidence to support the efficacy of stimulants and attention-supporting drugs.

Discover How We Address Fatigue at Cancer Fatigue Services

Just as every cancer case is distinct, so is our tailored approach to patient care. Before Cancer Fatigue Services, no dedicated multidisciplinary medical management services were available to address cancer-related fatigue in Canada. 

At Cancer Fatigue Services, we are dedicated to enhancing the lives of those affected by cancer, aiming to lessen their fatigue, rekindle their energy, and renew their optimism for a purposeful life. Our approach is compassionate and utilizes a precision medicine model consisting of a detailed fatigue assessment, personalized care plan, and advanced fatigue treatment and support services designed to meet the unique needs of each individual we serve.

Tired of being tired?
Contact us today

Do not accept being fatigued as part of your ‘new normal’. Book your free and no-obligation consultation with our Customer Care Team to learn more about how we can help address your cancer fatigue-related concerns.


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