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Some cancer survivors report that they still feel tired or worn out after treatment is over. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common complaints during the first year after treatment.

Rest or sleep does not cure the type of fatigue you may have. Doctors do not know its exact causes. The causes of fatigue are different for people who are receiving treatment than they are for those who have finished treatment:

  • Fatigue during treatment can be caused by cancer therapy. Other problems can also play a part in fatigue, like anemia (having too few red blood cells), poor nutrition, not drinking enough liquids, and depression. Pain can also make fatigue worse.
  • Researchers are still learning about what may cause fatigue after treatment.

How long will fatigue last? There is no normal pattern. For some, fatigue gets better over time. Other people, such as those who have had bone marrow transplants, may have less energy for years after their final treatment.

Some people feel very frustrated when fatigue lasts longer than they think it should and gets in the way of their normal routine. They also may worry that their friends, family, and coworkers will get upset with them if they complain of fatigue often.

Getting Help With Fatigue From Your Doctor Or Nurse

Talk to your doctor about what may be causing your fatigue and what can be done about it. Ask about:

  • How any medicines you are taking or other medical problems you have might affect your energy level
  • How you can control your pain, if pain is a problem for you
  • Exercise programs that might help, such as walking
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Changing your diet or drinking more fluids
  • Medicines or nutritional supplements that can help
  • Specialists who might help you, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists, or mental health professionals
Tips: Fighting Fatigue

How do you fight fatigue? Here are some ideas that have helped others:
  • Plan your day. Be active at the time of day when you feel most alert and energetic.
  • Save your energy by changing how you do things. For example, sit on a stool while you cook or wash dishes.
  • Take short naps or rest breaks between activities.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Do what you enjoy, but do less of it. Focus on old or new interests that do not tire you out. Try to read something brief or listen to music.
  • Let others help you. They might cook a meal, pick up something at the store, or do the laundry. If no one offers, ask for what you need. Friends and family might be willing to help but may not know what to do.
  • Choose how to spend your energy. Try to let go of things that don't matter as much now.
  • Think about joining a support/education group for people with cancer. Talking about your fatigue with others who have had the same problem can help you learn new ways to cope.

Last updated April 7, 2010