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Cancer-Related Fatigue

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Cancer-related fatigue is common in cancer patients. Fatigue is often confused with tiredness. Tiredness happens to everyone -- it's a feeling you get after doing certain things or at the end of the day. Usually, you know why you're tired, and a good night's sleep solves the problem.

Fatigue is a daily lack of energy or whole-body tiredness that doesn’t go away with sleep. It can be acute (lasting a month or less) or chronic (lasting up to 6 months or longer). Fatigue can prevent you from doing normal, daily things and affects your quality of life.

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Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Usually, it comes on suddenly, and it happens even if you haven't been active. It may continue even after you are done with treatment.

What Causes Cancer-Related Fatigue?

Tumor cells steal calories and nutrients from normal cells, leading to fatigue. Weight loss and a smaller appetite are also common with cancer.

Treatments can cause fatigue, too:

Chemotherapy. Any chemotherapy drug can cause fatigue. In some patients, fatigue lasts a few days, while others say fatigue lasts throughout treatment and even after the treatment is over.

Radiation. Radiation can cause fatigue that gets worse over time. Fatigue usually lasts from 3 to 4 weeks after treatment stops, but it can continue for up to 3 months.

Hormone therapy can cause fatigue by depriving the body of estrogen. It can last through treatment or longer.

Bone marrow transplant. This aggressive form of treatment can cause fatigue that lasts up to 1 year.

Biological therapy. Interferons and interleukins in high amounts can lead to persistent fatigue.

Combination therapy. Getting more than one cancer treatment at the same time or one after the other also increases the chances of having fatigue.

Surgery. Everyone recovers from surgery at different rates. This can also cause some fatigue.

What Else Contributes to Fatigue?

Cancer treatments can cause anemia, a blood disorder where your body's cells don’t get the oxygen they need. And side effects of treatments (such as nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, taste changes, heartburn, or diarrhea) can lower the amount of nutrition you get. Medicines used to treat side effects, such as nausea, pain, depression, anxiety, and seizures, can cause fatigue, as can hormonal changes related to medications.

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