Fatigue and tiredness are by far the most common symptoms of cancer. For many, it is an exhaustion that impedes the ability to enjoy life and carry out daily activities.
However, many patients neglect to tell their doctors that they are experiencing cancer fatigue. Some believe the tiredness cannot be relieved. Fortunately, there are ways to minimise its effects.
What causes cancer fatigue?
There are so many factors that can cause fatigue in a cancer patient. They include the cancer itself, treatment, anaemia, pain, emotions (such as depression), lack of sleep, and poor nutrition among others.
Cancer causes changes to the body and some of these changes can lead to fatigue. For example, some cancers release proteins called cytokines, which are thought to cause fatigue. Other cancers increase the body’s need for energy, weaken muscles, cause damage to organs (heart, liver, kidney, lungs) or alter body hormones, all of which can cause tiredness.
Treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery can also cause fatigue. This usually occurs when the treatment damages healthy cells along with the targeted cancer cells.
Fatigue may also set in when the body tries to repair the damage to healthy cells and tissue. Treatment side effects such as vomiting, pain, nausea, anaemia and insomnia can also cause fatigue.
What can you do about it?
It is not uncommon to experience varying levels of fatigue during cancer treatment. But it is possible to alleviate this tiredness.
More importantly, if you find that your fatigue is persistent, lasting weeks or more, and also interferes with your quality of life and daily routine, speak to your doctor immediately.
Self-care and medication to fight fatigue
Your doctor may suggest setting aside some time during the day to rest. Take short naps, no longer than an hour, throughout the day instead of resting for an extended period of time.
You can also maintain your energy by eating well, drinking lots of water (avoid alcohol and caffeine), and performing light exercises throughout the week. As this becomes part of your routine, it may even help you prevent fatigue during treatment.
Medical interventions are useful depending on the cause of your fatigue.
If your tiredness is the result of anaemia, your doctor may recommend blood transfusions. Medication that encourages increased red blood cell production may also be an option.
If you are suffering from depression, medication can also be given to help you cope.
Medicines that help increase appetite and improve your sense of well-being may also be considered.
Other medications can help induce sleep, which also reduces fatigue.
Adequate pain management can be very efficient in decreasing fatigue, so it is best to inform your doctor if you are experiencing persistent pain.
By Charmaine Ng
Tags: anaemia, blood transfusion, fatigue