Managing Cancer-Related Fatigue
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of anti-cancer treatments. People also perceive fatigue to be the most distressing symptom associated with cancer and its treatment; more distressing than pain, nausea, and vomiting. Cancer-related fatigue is defined as a persistent feeling of physical, emotional, mental tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer and/or its treatment. Although it is not preventable, there are several healthy habits that may help alleviate the severity of the fatigue. The resources below provide guidance and tips on nutrition, physical activity, sleep and stress management as valuable ways to manage fatigue.
Proper nutrition is the fuel to help you heal and recover, maintain energy, and control weight during treatment. Eating well may ease other side effects of cancer or treatment and also help with fighting infections more easily.
Try to get your daily caloric intake from functional foods such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, not empty calories. Go easy on fat, salt, alcohol, smoked and pickled foods as well as those high in sugar, which may increase fatigue.
Although you may not always feel thirsty, getting enough hydration is important. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of liquid every day. Water is important, but if nauseated, try whatever fluids you can tolerate. Here are some tips that may be helpful:
- Sip fluids throughout the day.
- Experiment with frequent, smaller meals.
- Accept offers from others to help with cooked meals and grocery shopping.
- Eat your main meal when you feel well-rested.
- Mediterranean Diet brochure
- Healthy Nutrition and Cancer brochure
Exercise has been shown to be the most effective way to reduce cancer-related fatigue and it is safe and beneficial at all stages of cancer treatment. By working more activity into your day, you may experience some or all of the following benefits:
- Improved sense of well-being and outlook
- Increased muscle tone, strength, and flexibility
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Reduced feelings of fatigue and increased sense of energy
- Decreased risk of other serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems
- Allows you to “check in” with your body throughout your cancer survivorship
- Reduces the risk of recurrence in breast and colorectal cancer
What you can do:
- Discuss with your health care provider what would be safe and realistic activity goals for you.
- Make the time and set your goal(s). What did you do for regular exercise prior to starting treatment? How has your routine changed? What are your goals as treatment ends?
- During treatment, there are some general precautions to follow when starting or continuing an exercise program.
Avoid exercise when you have:
- Low blood counts
- Pain and tingling in fingers or toes
- Severe weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Sharp or intense pain
- NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) brochure
Sleep and Energy Modification
Sleep is your “reset” button. It is important to your emotional and physical recovery. It allows our bodies to heal! It also helps our thinking processes and memory. The average adult needs between 7 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep to wake up feeling renewed and refreshed.
While undergoing anti-cancer treatment, you may notice that even with an adequate amount of sleep, you still feel tired and low on energy. This makes it challenging to accomplish those tasks you hope to do on a daily basis. Changing your expectations is an important first step to reducing the frustration that can accompany your fatigue. Decide what activities are most important to you and do those things during the times when you have the most energy. Pace yourself with frequent rest breaks throughout your day. Don't be afraid to ask for help or also say "no" to those things that can wait. Napping is not discouraged, but try to limit your naps to no more than 30 minutes at a time to prevent disrupting the normal sleep cycle.
For additional information:
Your cancer experience may affect the way that you feel, think and act. Just as you need to care for your body after treatment, you also need to care for your emotions. Shock, guilt, anger, fear, sadness and depression can all be part of the roller coaster ride of emotions you may feel. Trying a relaxation technique may reduce the amount of cortisol in your body which eliminates the “fight vs flight” response. This may decrease your heart rate, blood pressure, improve circulation and aide in digestion. You may find some of these techniques helpful:
- Focused relaxed deep breathing
- Guided meditation
- Centering prayer
If worrying is making it difficult to sleep, try keeping a journal at the bedside. Write about your worries, hopes and dreams and then plan a time of day that you feel your best, to review what you have written on a schedule that works for you. Your journal is private, but you may want to discuss any concerns with someone you are close to.
Do things that bring you joy and energize your spirit. Assess your own energy and priorities when you are asked to do something. Give yourself permission to focus on those things that renew your energy and give you joy.
Reducing Cancer-Related Fatigue is a class you may request to be ordered by your provider. Educators in the Cancer Education Center in Rochester, MN are able to teach this in-person or as a video visit. If you would like additional print information related to fatigue, you can stop by the center Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, in the Gonda Building, lobby level. We look forward to seeing you!
Did you find this helpful? Here are links to other classes: