Fatigue, tiredness and cancer - Maggie's Centres

Fatigue, tiredness and cancer

Fatigue or tiredness/lack of energy is something that affects 70-80% of people during, or after treatment for cancer.

As well as feeling tired, symptoms of fatigue include: poor concentration and memory, difficulty sleeping, muscle pains, breathlessness after light activity and emotional effects such as feeling low, anxious, or that you just can’t be bothered to do anything.

There are many different causes of fatigue, so it is important to talk to your Healthcare team to identify the cause and get the right treatment.

There are also things you can do to help ease the effects of fatigue for yourself and boost  your energy. during and after treatment. 


What is fatigue?

Fatigue (also called cancer related fatigue or CRF) is a lasting sense of tiredness that interferes with daily activities and isn’t activity related.  It can be related to the cancer itself, the treatment and also to nutrition, emotional distress and decreased physical activity.

When does it occur?

Fatigue associated with cancer treatment can worsen during or after the course of treatment. In most cases you will gradually begin to feel less fatigued when your treatment ends or a short time afterwards. 

Some therapies cause more longer term fatigue than others, such as bone marrow or stem cell transplants, some biotherapies and certain radiotherapy treatment plans. 

What are the symptoms of fatigue?

Symptoms  of fatigue can be vague  and vary for each person.

They include feeling a complete lack of energy, having difficulties with concentration and memory, having a lack of interest in things that you usually enjoy, muscle pains, difficulty sleeping, being short of breath after small tasks, and feeling low in mood

Minimising the effects of fatigue

Whilst it may not be possible to avoid fatigue completely during or after treatment there are ways you can reduce its effects .

  • Tell your hospital team so they can identify the cause of the fatigue 
  • Some medicines and combinations of medicines can contribute to fatigue and it may be possible to make changes to avoid making the fatigue worse so make sure they are aware of any medications you are taking - this includes any  supplements,herbal remedies or over the counter  preparations  or prescribed medicines you may be taking for other conditions as well as for the cancer.
  • Balance exercise and rest: There has been a lot of recent research to show that exercise can help increase energy levels  it is important  to balance that with regular periods of rest (not necessarily sleep) at intervals during the day.
  • Eat well:  Avoiding certain foods , eating a well balanced diet and drinking enough water  can  all help boost  energy  and reduce the effects of fatigue.
  • Ask for help: with practical tasks and chores so you can target your energy  where it is needed.
  • Relaxation: Learning to switch off, manage troublesome thoughts and  reduce stress can help improve both your physical and emotional strength
  • Sleep:  helps us feel refreshed mentally and physically . Sleep problems are common in people affected by fatigue.  developing strategies to improve your sleep pattern can help boost your energy.
  • Set realistic goals: Thhink about what you can manage in a day and allow yourself time to achieve them to avoid unnecessary exertion.

What now?

Find out more about managing cancer related fatigue from the links on this page.  

Drop into one of our centres and talk to our professional cancer support specialists about the support available at Maggie’s to help you to manage fatigue including nutritional support, exercise and relaxation sessions and sleep workshops 

Connect with other visitors in our centres, or online via forums and blogs, to share tips for managing fatigue during and after treatment. 

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