What Are The Causes Of Cancer Related Fatigue & How To Manage It?

Fatigue is lethargy like feeling which doesn’t vanish even after sleeping for 6-8 hours in a day. It is often confused with tiredness which is a feeling that occurs due to the loss of energy from the body after a rigorous work schedule. Fatigue can last for a considerably longer duration, especially when it is cancer related fatigue. This article deals with the causes of cancer related fatigue and how to manage it.

What Are The Causes Of Cancer Related Fatigue?

What Are The Causes Of Cancer Related Fatigue?

Cancer related fatigue affects the life of patients by preventing them from carrying out their day to day work. It is considered as the most common side-effect of ‘cancer as well as its treatment’. It may sometimes be so intense that the physicians term it as a paralyzing effect on the human body.
Here are some of the most important causes of cancer related fatigue:

Cancer Related Fatigue Caused Due to Cancer Itself

The disease cancer, itself is one of the major cause of cancer related fatigue. Some of the contributing factors in cancer that result in cancer related fatigue include,

  • Loss of Nutrition – The cancerous cell competes with the normal body cell for nutrition and as a result, the actual nutrition available for the body decreases. This is results in fatigue and significant weight loss, which is the commonest cause of cancer related fatigue.
  • Stress – Stress adds to the problems and increases cancer related fatigue. Stress during cancer develops progressively while dealing with the ‘disease as well as the first time metamorphic changes’ in the body, like the loss of hair, loss of appetite, weight loss etc. Further, the inability to accomplish a task like you used to, earlier when you were healthy, also creates pressure which results in stress and eventually fatigue.
  • Depression – Depression normally occurs as the by-product of stress. It is a result of the inability of an individual to lead the life like a healthy individual. The preoccupied feelings in the body leads to loss of interest of the individual in the worldly affairs and as a result leads to loss of energy from the body which eventually causes fatigue.

Cancer Related Fatigue Caused Due to Treatment of Cancer

Apart from the disease condition, the treatment of cancer too is one of the most important causes of cancer related fatigue.

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs are the commonest causes of cancer related fatigue. The chemotherapy drugs lead to a lot of temporary side effects in the body like nausea, vomiting etc. which often triggers fatigue. It may last for several weeks even after the chemotherapy.
  • Bone Marrow Transplant – Since bone marrow transplant is an aggressive form of treatment, therefore it consumes a lot of body’s energy. The fatigue caused due to bone marrow transplant can last for a year.
  • Radiation Therapy – The fatigue due to radiation therapy can occur in the whole body, irrespective of the site where the radiation therapy was performed. The duration of cancer related fatigue caused due to radiation therapy ranges from 3 – 4 weeks after the completion of the therapy, however, in some cases it may last up to 3 – 4 months.
  • Combination Therapy – In certain cases, physician makes use of multiple treatment therapies to treat patients suffering from cancer. In such a case where combination therapies are used, the intensity of side effects in the human body increases exponentially thereby leading to an increased duration of fatigue as compared to single treatment therapy.
  • Biological Therapy – Biological therapy too can cause cancer related fatigue. It is another form of treatment for cancer that leads to the development of fatigue in the human body that may range from a month to 4 months.
  • Anemia – The treatment therapies for cancer, especially chemotherapy, lead to the decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body due to which the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood decreases. Hence, results in fatigue due to the deficiency of oxygen in the body tissues. This clinical condition is also called as Anemia and is a common side effect of cancer.
  • Drugs – Various drugs used for the treatment of the side effects of cancer like seizures, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression, pain etc. too can be some of the causes of fatigue.

How To Manage Cancer Related Fatigue?

Treating the underlying clinical cause is the best to manage cancer related fatigue. Hence, it is necessary to understand the evaluation of cancer related fatigue.

Some of the signs that raise suspicion about the factors and causes of cancer related fatigue include

  • Weakness
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Mental Exhaustion
  • Body tiredness due to inadequate sleep
  • Malaise

Following are some of the tips on how to manage cancer related fatigue.

Conserve Energy

Preserving energy is one of the best ways to manage cancer related fatigue. Following are some of the ways to combat fatigue by this method

  • Delegate – The easiest way to conserve your energy to manage cancer related fatigue is by delegating your task to someone else, whenever possible.
  • Modify work place – The other smart way to manage cancer related fatigue is by modifying your work related things. For example, changing the storage or position of the workable items so as to allow easy access and decrease the number of trips to grab them all.
  • Simplification of Work – Organize your work by simplifying and prioritizing the details of the work so that it can be executed swiftly.
  • Plan Your Rest Time – Since you have already evaluated the time at which you feel fatigued, therefore, it is advisable to take rest before you become fatigued. Short and frequent rests between your work can help in dealing with fatigue, effectively. Learn how to balance work and rest to manage cancer related fatigue.
  • Regulate the Pace of Work – Other ways to manage cancer related fatigue is to avoid last minute work tensions and plan the pace of work or any activity. Be punctual and disciplined in your work; a judicious pace is always better than rushing through the work activities. Also, in order to avoid strain on your body, it is advisable to follow alternate sitting and standing schedule.
  • Ergonomics – It is very important to keep your body in the correct position throughout the day especially when you are suffering from cancer and are prone to fatigue, very easily. A chair with good back support should be used. Also, make sure that you keep your back absolutely straight and shoulders back. A wrong body posture leads to the stressing out of muscles easily.
  • Work that Requires Heavy Lifting – If you work in a place where you require to do heavy lifting, a little attention to the right methodology may ease the stress off your muscles and avoid early fatigue. While lifting up an object, remember to bend your legs and knees, instead of back such that the fulcrum of weight gets divided evenly throughout.
  • Temperature – While suffering from cancer, the human body tends to get fatigued easily especially when exposed to extreme temperatures. Therefore, it is essential to regulate the room temperature to the normal temperature, i.e. 24-28 degrees Celsius.
  • Smoke – Since the body’s immune system gets compromised in cancer, therefore it is advisable to avoid contact with the harmful fumes as well as the cigarette smoke.

Manage Diet and Nutrition

The treatment of cancer becomes very difficult if the patient does not get a balanced diet. Lack of adequate nutrition is one of the causes of cancer related fatigue.

Therefore, it is important to maintain good nutrition through a properly planned healthy diet.

The best way to deal with this is to consult a registered dietician who can plan a healthy diet based on individual nutritional requirement so as to maintain good health and control fatigue. Some of these issues like changes in taste pattern, early feeling of fullness, difficulty in swallowing etc. can easily be addressed by a good dietician.

Exercise Regularly

With cancer comes in depression and the lack of will to do any physical activity which eventually leads to a sedentary lifestyle. Such a transformation in life is normally considered as the cause of cancer related fatigue. Even a healthy athlete may lose stamina and would thereby feel fatigued, if made to practice a sedentary lifestyle; leave aside the crucial case of a cancer patient.

One of the best ways to manage cancer related fatigue is to do regular or moderate levels of exercise. As per a research, it was found that cancer patients who practiced a disciplined exercise routine, had a better quality of life as compared to the cancer patients who didn’t do any physical activity. Among the most productive as well as the safest form of exercises are low impact aerobics, brisk walking, swimming and indoor stationary cycling.

However, while starting with the exercise regime, it is important to keep a note of the following points:-

  • Know Your Body – Before starting with the exercise routine, consult your physician once. This will help in making you knowledgeable about the intensity of exercise pattern that your body can handle.
  • Discipline – Starting an exercise schedule but not doing it regularly will not help much in managing cancer related fatigue as your body would never be able to develop the required stamina to deal with body fatigue. Therefore follow a regular exercise schedule.
  • Tapper Your Exercise Regime – Do not overstress your body by performing heavy exercise right from day one. Instead, start slowly so that your body gets time to adjust to the new schedule. Take help of a professional, to design the exercise regime according to your stamina and medical condition, if required.
  • Keep a track – When trying to manage cancer related fatigue with exercise, it is necessary to keep a track of new symptoms. It is very important to keep a note of any unexpected changes in the body while you exercise like stiffness in the body muscles, soreness, feeling out of breath and early exhaustion. If you witness any of these changes, immediately consult your trainer to revise the exercise regime. The most probable reason for such clinical conditions can be overstressing or overdoing of exercise.

Hence, it is very important to understand the fact that fatigue in cancer is not difficult to deal with. You just need to adjust your expectations, adopt some relaxation techniques, help others understand and support along with making some lifestyle modifications to manage cancer related fatigue.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 2, 2021

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