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Fatigue (fuh-teeg) is feeling tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It means having less energy to do the things you normally do or want to do. In people with cancer, it can be caused by the cancer itself, cancer treatment, and other factors. Fatigue can last a long time and can affect your mood, employment, daily routines, self-care, recreation, relationships, and your sense of self.

The fatigue that comes with cancer is different from the fatigue of daily life. Everyday, normal fatigue usually doesn’t last long and most often gets better with rest. Cancer-related fatigue is worse and it causes more distress. It’s not the tired feeling people remember having before they had cancer. Some people describe it as feeling weak, listless, drained, or “washed out.” Some may feel too tired to eat, walk to the bathroom, or even use the TV remote. It can be hard to think, as well as move your body. Rest does not make it go away, and just a little activity can make you feel exhausted. For some people, this kind of fatigue can cause even more distress than pain, nausea, vomiting, or depression.

Cancer-related fatigue can:

  • Differ from one day to the next in how bad it is and how much it bothers you
  • Be overwhelming and make it hard for you to feel well
  • Make it hard for you to be with your friends and family
  • Make it hard for you to do your normal activities, including going to work
  • Make it harder for you to follow your cancer treatment plan
  • Last different lengths of time, which makes it hard to guess how long yours will go on

Cancer patients say fatigue is the most distressing side effect of cancer and its treatment – it can have a major effect on a person’s quality of life.

Fatigue is very common in people with cancer

Cancer-related fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. Research suggests that anywhere between 70% and 100% of cancer patients getting treatment have fatigue. And about 30% to 50% of cancer survivors have said that their fatigue lasts for months or even years after they finish treatment.

Even though fatigue is a very distressing symptom, doctors and nurses seldom focus on it, and patients and caregivers rarely report it. It may be hard to talk about, but fatigue is common for people with cancer. Your health care team can do things to help you if they know you are having this problem.

Last Medical Review: 12/10/2012
Last Revised: 12/10/2012