Is post-cancer fatigue real?
Yes, it is absolutely real. A lot of times, fatigue is confused with tiredness. Everyone gets tired; it’s expected after a long, tiring day. A good night’s sleep can help us fix that.
Unlike tiredness, fatigue is different. Fatigue is defined as a lack of daily energy, an unusual feeling or tiredness that does not go away with rest or sleep.
There are two types of fatigue: acute (lasting a month or less) and chronic (lasting from one to six months or even longer) 1.
Fatigue is shown to have negative impacts on an individual’s health and affect their quality of life.
Causes of Post cancer fatigue:
Fatigue is a common side effect of any type of cancer treatment, which can include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This can occur weeks or months after the treatment ends as well. Cancer can also cause fatigue 2. Other reasons are,
- Receiving both chemotherapy and radiation
- Hormonal levels imbalance
- Breathlessness/ poor oxygenation
- Loss of appetite or not getting adequate nutrients
- Medicines that can make you drowsy
In the course of chemotherapy, fatigue can be induced by
- Not able to sleep because of anticancer medications
Strategies to manage
- Get moving, exercise has a great effect on fatigue during and after cancer treatment. Movements like walking, going to the gym, swimming, and moving your body every day, will help reduce fatigue.
One study showed the positive effects of exercise on patients with breast cancer who indulged in day-to-day enjoyable physical movement. They experienced less fatigue and pain and performed their daily activities better. Clinical trials reported these benefits experienced by the study group-
- More energy
- Better appetite
- Better quality of life
- More joy in life
Light to moderate physical movement for three to five days a week can help with cancer fatigue. You are more likely to stick to the plan if you choose a workout regimen you enjoy. A suitable plan for you can be devised by your healthcare professional. Start with a light movement like a walk and build up to more over time. Studies have shown that physical movement can be safely performed during and after cancer treatment
- For better results indulge in mind & body exercises like tai chi, and yoga as these exercises involve movements, stretching, balance and meditation that help relieve fatigue well3
- Individuals facing difficulty in reducing fatigue can take professional help from therapists. Cognitive behaviour therapy or talk therapy with a professional therapist can help in coping with fatigue or things that make cancer fatigue worse. Like stress from coping with cancer, fear of the comeback of cancer, a feeling of hopelessness, or even lack of social support.
Cancer treatment makes it hard for many patients to eat properly. The body receives its energy from food, and fatigue may occur if the body does not get enough food to meet its energy requirements. In cancer patients, 3 major reasons may affect food absorption in the body-
- A patient may consume the same portion of food as before but the body may not absorb and use all of the nutrients from food. This can be due to cancer or the effect of its treatment.
- An increase in the energy demand may be due to a growing tumour, infection or fever.
- A decrease in the demand for food could be because of nausea, low appetite, vomiting, or a disturbed bowel 3.
- Ginseng herb, people with fatigue who were being treated for cancer or who had finished cancer treatment received either ginseng or a placebo. The group receiving ginseng had less fatigue than the placebo group3.
- Ginger contains major bioactive compounds like gingerol, shogaol and dehydrogingerdione which have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties 3 4.
- Vitamin B complex, especially Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin), because patients with cancer tend to develop or have anemia4.
- Vitamin D deficiency is common in patients with cancer, hence Vit D supplementation is essential.
- Intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of fatigue.
- Probiotics also showed promise for cancer-related symptoms and treatment toxicities. The most studied area was the prevention of radiation toxicity among patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Other than these strategies, the two major factors affecting the condition are being overweight and stress.
Indulge in activities that calm and relax your mind & body and take care of your health.
1. Cancer Fatigue: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5230-cancer-fatigue
2. 8 Ways to Cope With Cancer-Related Fatigue. Cancer.Net. Published January 10, 2017. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.cancer.net/blog/2017-01/8-ways-cope-with-cancer-related-fatigue
3. Fatigue (PDQ®)–Patient Version - NCI. Published May 23, 2022. Accessed December 14, 2022. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/fatigue/fatigue-pdq
4. Inglis JE, Lin PJ, Kerns SL, et al. Nutritional interventions for treating cancer-related fatigue: a qualitative review. Nutr Cancer. 2019;71(1):21-40. doi:10.1080/01635581.2018.1513046