What is cancer fatigue?
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Fatigue means tiredness and lack of energy. You feel as if you can't do things at your normal pace. We all feel this at times - maybe when we are working too hard, worrying about something or just doing too much partying! Not eating properly or taking too little exercise can make it worse. With this type of fatigue, your body is letting you know that you are overdoing it. The tiredness is usually short term and you feel better after you stop and rest.
Fatigue for people with cancer can be very different. The cancer or its treatment may make you feel very tired. The tiredness may not go away even when you rest. It can go on for weeks, months or even years after you finish treatment. This is called chronic fatigue, which means long lasting. Most people get back to their normal energy levels from between 6 months to a year after the end of cancer treatment. But it can take longer.
Fatigue is very common in people with cancer. It can be the most troubling symptom. It affects between 7 and 9 out of every 10 people (70 to 90%). Many people with cancer say that it is the most disruptive side effect of all. But only 1 in 5 people think something can be done about it. So, many people don't ever mention it to their doctors. In the past, doctors and nurses haven't always appreciated the long term effects of fatigue on people with cancer. But there is now a lot of research into this area. Things are improving and there are ways of relieving fatigue.
Fatigue can be very frustrating. You and your relatives may underestimate how much it can affect daily life. Fatigue can affect you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Doctors may overlook fatigue, leaving you to feel that you've been left to cope alone. Everyday life can be hard work and you may not have the energy to cook, clean, bathe or go shopping. You may not even feel up to a chat.
All this can affect the way you feel about yourself and your relationships with other people. You may feel very down and not want to go out or be with people. This may be hard for them to understand. You may have to stop work or cut down your hours because of fatigue. This may affect how much money you have.
Fatigue can be a constant reminder of your cancer and this can be hard to accept. You may worry that because you feel so tired all the time your cancer must be getting worse. But it is more likely to be a side effect of treatment, or due to the fact that cancer can cause fatigue. We don't fully understand why cancer causes fatigue, and we need more research into the causes of fatigue and treating fatigue.
You are not imagining your cancer fatigue. It is very real and can have a big impact on your life. If you have symptoms of fatigue, let your doctor or nurse know. There are ways of managing fatigue and your medical team will try to help you.
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