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How to Win the Battle of Cancer-Related Fatigue

Posted by Tri Vu, M.D. on Aug 9, 2017, 8:03:00 AM

Fatigue often comes hand-in-hand with cancer, either as a direct result of the disease or treatment – and sometimes both. It can even come and go. It adds a layer of frustration for anyone dealing with cancer when it hinders daily living activities, but there are steps you can take to come out ahead in the battle. 

Understand What Causes Cancer-Related Fatigue

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Not only is fatigue a side effect of many types of cancer, it’s also the most common side effect of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As these treatments fight to destroy cancerous cells within the body, they may leave a patient feeling weak, tired and lethargic. 

Cancer-related fatigue also is caused by: 

  • Low red-blood cell counts
  • Hormone levels that are out of normal range
  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Loss of appetite (which generally results in poor nutrition and lower calorie intake)
  • Loss of weight and muscle strength 

Being informed about the causes of cancer-related fatigue can work to your advantage. Knowing the root cause may help patients avoid behavior that can make it worse, or start new behavior to fight the fatigue.

Take Care of Your Body

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Fatigue for cancer patients often differs from regular fatigue. When someone who doesn’t have cancer feels fatigue, a good night’s rest is often enough to help them bounce back. This isn’t always the case with cancer patients. That’s why taking care of your body as a whole all the time is of utmost importance if you’re trying to fight fatigue. Here are some things you can do for your body: 

  • Rest when you’re tired – try to sleep at least seven to eight hours per night.
  • Avoid caffeine – this can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Drink lots of water – water helps replenish your body.
  • Eat well – talk to your doctor about a healthy diet plan for you.
  • Exercise – don’t overdo it, but exercise can help boost your energy and keep you healthy. 

Before you enter into any new diet or exercise, talk to your physician to make sure it’s the right choice for you and your treatment plan. 

Take Care of Your Mind

Remember not to neglect your mind as you’re taking care of your body – mental strength is an important factor in fighting fatigue. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you’re taking care of your mental health: 

  • Rest your mind – try meditation or yoga.
  • Talk about things when you’re upset – keeping emotions inside isn’t going to help you deal with them.
  • Reduce your stress – now is a good time to take a mental inventory of things in your life and if something is causing you stress, let it go.
  • Do things that require concentration such as crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles – the distraction will be good for your mind and help you to relax. 

If you’re having severe fatigue, make sure to talk with your physician or your cancer care team – there might be solutions they can offer that will fit into your personal treatment plan and help in extreme situations.


Dr. Tri Vu is a board-certified hematologist/oncologist at the Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center at the Main Campus and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center.


Topics: Cancer, Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center, cancer fatigue

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