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Cancer Health Center

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Fatigue (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Intervention

Table 2. Centrally Acting Stimulants for Adult Cancer Patients continued...

On the basis of limited clinical experience and acknowledging a lack of evidence in randomized controlled trials, it might be reasonable to consider a psychostimulant such as methylphenidate or modafinil for the treatment of severe fatigue, particularly for short periods of time (a couple of weeks) in patients with advanced disease. When the use of these medications is being considered, it is important to obtain informed consent, with careful discussion of risks, benefits, and alternatives. Continuous monitoring of cardiovascular parameters is crucial when these medications are used, especially in patients with preexisting cardiovascular issues and in patients being treated with known cardiotoxic chemotherapeutic regimens (e.g., anthracyclines). In certain cases, consulting with cardiology services might be necessary. Longer-term psychostimulant therapy is not advisable at this time because there is limited information about its potential negative effects and longer-term benefits.

Other Pharmacologic Interventions


Bupropion is a stimulating antidepressant with a primarily dopaminergic and noradrenergic mechanism of action. (Refer to the Antidepressant Medications for Ambulatory Adult Patients table in the PDQ summary on Depression for more information.) Preliminary evidence from a small open-label study (N = 21) suggests that the sustained-release (SR) form of bupropion has potential as an effective therapeutic agent for treating CRF with or without comorbid depressive symptoms.[30][Level of evidence: II] Seizure, a rare but serious side effect of this agent, did not occur in this study (the maximum dose of bupropion SR used in this study was 300 mg).


Dexamethasone is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that has recently been evaluated for the treatment of fatigue in patients with advanced cancer. Eighty-four patients were randomly assigned to receive either dexamethasone 4 mg twice per day or a placebo for 14 days. The primary endpoint was improvement in fatigue from baseline to day 15, as measured by the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Fatigue (FACIT-F) scale. Investigators also evaluated depression, anxiety, and symptom distress. In the group who received dexamethasone, mean scores on the FACIT-F scale were significantly improved by day 8 (P = .005) and at day 15 (P = .008). Physical well-being and physical distress were also significantly better in the group who received dexamethasone. Emotional scores and overall symptom distress were not significantly different. Adverse events, as measured by the Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events, version 3.0, did not differ between groups.

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