Cancer-related fatigue affects men and women during and after cancer treatment. The National Cancer Comprehensive Network defines cancer-related fatigue as “a distressing persistent, personal sense of physical, emotional and/or mental tiredness related to cancer or cancer treatment that is not in relation to recent activity and interferes with normal activities.”
It is estimated that as many as 60 percent to100 percent of cancer patients experience fatigue as a result of cancer or cancer treatment, making it the most common, persistent problem. Cancer-related fatigue often can continue beyond the completion of treatment and can have profound effects on a person’s quality of life.
Recognizing signs of cancer-related fatigue and communicating with providers plays a significant role in the management of fatigue. It is important for patients to discuss, with the provider, side effects they are experiencing, to help manage fatigue. In addition, it is important for caregivers to understand signs of cancer-related fatigue and techniques to help. The goal in treating fatigue is to maintain quality of life at the highest level.
Simple things can help when experiencing cancer-related fatigue. Unless advised otherwise, patients should eat a healthy diet, with eight to10 glasses of water a day. In addition, when feeling fatigued, try shorter versions of activities you enjoy. It can be helpful to take a 30-minute nap or several, relaxing breaks in a comfortable chair or bed. However, patients should avoid napping for long periods during the day, as this may make it difficult to sleep at night.
It also can be helpful to ask family or friends for help and delegate activities to others. Overall, it’s important for those experiencing cancer-related fatigue to pace themselves, continuing to stay active, and building upon activity at their own comfort level.
In addition, a growing amount of evidence supports the addition of an exercise program, used with cancer treatment or after treatment has completed, to decrease fatigue. Many types of exercise have been studied, including yoga, swimming, walking and weightlifting.
Exercise regimens should be supervised by a professional and be personalized for cancer patients to meet their needs, and increase in intensity as the patient’s tolerance grows. Patients should consult their oncologist before starting any exercise program.
Jessica Law, a nurse practitioner, serves as operations manager of oncology and infusion services at the newly opened Baptist Health Cancer Care at Baptist Health Richmond.