Managing Cancer-related Fatigue at Home
Fatigue is when a person has less energy to do the things they normally do or want to do. Cancer treatment fatigue is different from that of everyday life. It’s the most common side effect of cancer treatment. Fatigue related to cancer treatment can appear suddenly and can be overwhelming. It’s not relieved by rest. It can last for months after treatment ends. This type of fatigue can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including the ability to do their usual activities.
Cancer fatigue is real and should not be ignored. It can be worse when a person is dehydrated, anemic, in pain, not sleeping well, or has an infection. Recent studies have shown that exercise programs during treatment can help reduce fatigue.
What to look for
- Feeling like you have no energy
- Sleeping more than normal
- Not wanting to or not being able to do normal activities
- Paying less attention to how you look
- Feeling tired even after sleeping
- Trouble thinking or concentrating
- Trouble finding words and speaking
What the patient can do
- Balance rest and activities.
- Tell your cancer team if you’re not able to get around as well as usual.
- Plan your important activities for when you have the most energy.
- Schedule important activities throughout the day rather than all at once.
- Ask your cancer team to help you with an exercise program to help reduce fatigue.
- Get enough rest and sleep. Short naps and rest breaks may be needed.
- Remember that fatigue caused by treatment is short term and that energy often returns slowly after treatment has ended.
- Ask others to help you by cooking meals and doing housework, yard work, and errands.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes protein (such as fish, meat, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts, peas, and beans), and drink about 8 to 10 glasses of liquid a day, unless your cancer team gives you other instructions.
What caregivers can do
- Help schedule friends and family members to prepare meals, clean the house, do yard work, or run errands for the patient. You can use websites that help organize these things, or ask a family member to look into this for you.
- Try not to push the patient to do more than they are able to.
- Help the patient set up a routine for activities during the day.
Call the cancer team if the patient:
- Is too tired to get out of bed for more than a 24-hour period
- Becomes confused or can’t think clearly
- Has trouble sleeping at night
- Has fatigue that keeps getting worse
- Feels out of breath or has a racing heartbeat after only a small activity
Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al (Eds). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical, 2008.
Camp-Sorrell D, Hawkins RA. Clinical Manual for the Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse, Second Ed. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Cope DG, Reb AM. An Evidence-Based Approach to the Treatment and Care of the Older Adult with Cancer. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Houts PS, Bucher JA. Caregiving, Revised ed. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2003.
Kaplan M. Understanding and Managing Oncologic Emergencies: A Resource for Nurses. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Kuebler KK, Berry PH, Heidrich DE. End-of-Life Care: Clinical Practice Guidelines. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co. 2002.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Cancer-Related Fatigue. Version 2.2015. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/fatigue.pdf on March 19, 2015.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Palliative Care. Version 1.2015. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/palliative.pdf on March 19, 2015.
Oncology Nursing Society. Cancer Symptoms. Accessed at www.cancersymptoms.org on April 3, 2013.
Ripamonti C, Bruera E. Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Advanced Cancer Patients. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Varricchio CG. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses, 8th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.
Yarbro CH, Frogge MH, Goodman M. Cancer Symptom Management, 3rd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.
Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015