Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Fatigue / weakness

If you are fighting cancer, chances are you have experienced fatigue and/or weakness at some point. Cancer-related fatigue is an unusual and persistent lack of energy or sense of tiredness and exhaustion related to cancer or its treatment. If you are suffering from cancer-related fatigue, even simple activities, such as talking on the telephone, shopping for groceries or walking across a room can seem like too much.

Treatment for cancer-related fatigue requires understanding the underlying cause(s) of the condition and learning ways to manage it. Your doctor may ask you to describe your fatigue on 0-10 scale. You may also receive a physical examination and additional tests, such as blood work. Your doctor will likely consider other factors, including the type and stage of cancer, your treatment history, current medications, diet, sleep and/or rest patterns, psychological profile, general health and other factors (e.g., anemia, breathing problems, decreased muscle strength, etc.).

Tips for minimizing cancer-related fatigue

  • Try to plan out your day’s activity in advance and keep a regular and reasonable daily routine.
  • Prioritize your activities so you use your energy on the activities most important to you. Do shorter versions of your usual activities.
  • Spread your activities throughout the day during times when you feel best and take rest breaks in between activities.
  • Take consistent, short naps (30 minutes each) throughout the day, rather than one long nap. Try not to nap too late in the afternoon.
  • If you can, rest before you become fatigued and follow a nap with an activity or light exercise.
  • Follow a well-balanced diet (high in protein and carbohydrates, low in sugar) and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine late in the day.
  • Get regular, light exercise (e.g., a 15-minute walk three times a week).
  • Establish a regular sleeping routine with regular bedtimes (go to sleep and wake up at the same time).
  • Modify your home environment by placing items within easy reach to avoid multiple trips up and down stairs or in and out of rooms.
  • Delegate household chores and tasks to others.
  • Use good body mechanics while working. Sit while doing a task. Push instead of carry. An occupational therapist can help you with additional ways to conserve energy.
  • Try using relaxation techniques to combat stress (e.g., deep breathing, meditation, visualization, music therapy, massage).
  • Adjust your work schedule to take advantage of your peak energy times.
  • Share your feelings with others (e.g., family, friends, support groups, a professional counselor).
  • Keep track of your fatigue from day to day and share this information with your doctor.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.