Fatigue in People With Cancer

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Talk about your fatigue

Treating fatigue is an important part of care for you and your family. It’s often possible to lessen fatigue so that life can be more normal. But before anything can be done to help you, your health care team must know about your level of fatigue, or how bad your fatigue is.

People with fatigue describe it in many ways. They may say they feel tired, weak, exhausted, weary, worn-out, or slow. They may say they have no energy and can’t concentrate. They also talk about having heavy arms and legs, little drive to do anything, being unable to sleep or sleeping too much. They may feel moody, sad, irritable, or frustrated. Patients rarely describe what they’re feeling as “fatigue” unless their health care team suggests it.

Describing fatigue

No lab tests or x-rays can diagnose or show your level of fatigue. The best measure of fatigue comes from the way you describe your fatigue level to your health care team. But fatigue can be hard to describe.

You can describe your level of fatigue as none, mild, moderate, or severe. Or you can use a scale of 0 to 10, where a 0 means no fatigue at all, and a 10 means the worst fatigue you can imagine. Ask your doctor or nurse how to describe your fatigue so they can understand how it affects your everyday life.

How bad is your fatigue?

If you have moderate (4 to 6 on the 0 to 10 scale) to severe (7 to 10 on the 0 to 10 scale) fatigue, your doctor could ask you for more information. You might be asked questions like:

  • When did the fatigue first start?
  • When did you first notice that this fatigue is different?
  • How long has it lasted?
  • Has it changed over time? In what way?
  • Does anything make it better? Worse?
  • Are there times of day that you notice it more?
  • How has the fatigue affected the things you do every day or the activities that give meaning and enjoyment to your life?
  • Do you have any other problems or concerns?

In planning how to treat your fatigue, your doctor might take into account things like your type of cancer, the type and length of treatment, how likely the treatment is to cause fatigue, and your response to treatment.

Last Medical Review: 10/09/2014
Last Revised: 10/22/2014