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Cancer Health Center

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


Fatigue has a negative impact on all areas of function, including the following:[14,15,16,17]

  • Mood.
  • Physical function.
  • Work performance.
  • Social interaction.
  • Family care.[18]
  • Cognitive performance.
  • School work.
  • Community activities.
  • Sense of self.

The pattern of fatigue associated with cancer treatment varies according to type and schedule of treatment. For example, people treated with cyclic chemotherapy regimens generally exhibit peak fatigue in the days following treatment, then report lower levels of fatigue until the next treatment; however, those undergoing external-beam radiation therapy report gradually increasing fatigue over the course of therapy of the largest treatment field. Few studies of people undergoing cancer treatment have addressed the issue of fatigue as a result of the emotional distress associated with undergoing a diagnostic evaluation for cancer and the effects of medical and surgical procedures used for that evaluation and for initial treatment. Because most adults enter the cancer care system following at least one surgical procedure and because surgery and emotional distress are both associated with fatigue, it is likely that most people beginning nonsurgical treatment are experiencing fatigue at the beginning of treatment.[19,20]

Recommendations for fatigue management focus on identifying factors that may be contributing to fatigue. Because the only definitive causal mechanism demonstrated through research to date is chemotherapy-induced anemia, most clinical recommendations for managing fatigue caused by something other than chemotherapy-induced anemia rely on careful development of clinical hypotheses, as outlined in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines on fatigue.[21] The only level 1 intervention for CRF at this time is exercise. (Refer to the Exercise section of this summary for more information.) Much more research is needed to better define fatigue and its trajectory, understand its physiology, and determine the best ways to prevent and treat it.

In this summary, unless otherwise stated, evidence and practice issues as they relate to adults are discussed. The evidence and application to practice related to children may differ significantly from information related to adults. When specific information about the care of children is available, it is summarized under its own heading.


  1. Prue G, Rankin J, Allen J, et al.: Cancer-related fatigue: A critical appraisal. Eur J Cancer 42 (7): 846-63, 2006.
  2. Bower JE, Ganz PA, Desmond KA, et al.: Fatigue in long-term breast carcinoma survivors: a longitudinal investigation. Cancer 106 (4): 751-8, 2006.
  3. Baker F, Denniston M, Smith T, et al.: Adult cancer survivors: how are they faring? Cancer 104 (11 Suppl): 2565-76, 2005.
  4. Fosså SD, Dahl AA, Loge JH: Fatigue, anxiety, and depression in long-term survivors of testicular cancer. J Clin Oncol 21 (7): 1249-54, 2003.
  5. Miaskowski C, Portenoy RK: Update on the assessment and management of cancer-related fatigue. Principles and Practice of Supportive Oncology Updates 1 (2): 1-10, 1998.
  6. Irvine DM, Vincent L, Bubela N, et al.: A critical appraisal of the research literature investigating fatigue in the individual with cancer. Cancer Nurs 14 (4): 188-99, 1991.
  7. Vogelzang NJ, Breitbart W, Cella D, et al.: Patient, caregiver, and oncologist perceptions of cancer-related fatigue: results of a tripart assessment survey. The Fatigue Coalition. Semin Hematol 34 (3 Suppl 2): 4-12, 1997.
  8. Detmar SB, Aaronson NK, Wever LD, et al.: How are you feeling? Who wants to know? Patients' and oncologists' preferences for discussing health-related quality-of-life issues. J Clin Oncol 18 (18): 3295-301, 2000.
  9. Costantini M, Mencaglia E, Giulio PD, et al.: Cancer patients as 'experts' in defining quality of life domains. A multicentre survey by the Italian Group for the Evaluation of Outcomes in Oncology (IGEO). Qual Life Res 9 (2): 151-9, 2000.
  10. Cella D, Lai JS, Chang CH, et al.: Fatigue in cancer patients compared with fatigue in the general United States population. Cancer 94 (2): 528-38, 2002.
  11. Orre IJ, Fosså SD, Murison R, et al.: Chronic cancer-related fatigue in long-term survivors of testicular cancer. J Psychosom Res 64 (4): 363-71, 2008.
  12. Barsevick AM, Whitmer K, Walker L: In their own words: using the common sense model to analyze patient descriptions of cancer-related fatigue. Oncol Nurs Forum 28 (9): 1363-9, 2001.
  13. Berger AM, Abernethy AP, Atkinson A, et al.: Cancer-related fatigue. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 8 (8): 904-31, 2010.
  14. Pickard-Holley S: Fatigue in cancer patients. A descriptive study. Cancer Nurs 14 (1): 13-9, 1991.
  15. Glaus A: Assessment of fatigue in cancer and non-cancer patients and in healthy individuals. Support Care Cancer 1 (6): 305-15, 1993.
  16. Given B, Given CW, McCorkle R, et al.: Pain and fatigue management: results of a nursing randomized clinical trial. Oncol Nurs Forum 29 (6): 949-56, 2002.
  17. Curt GA: The impact of fatigue on patients with cancer: overview of FATIGUE 1 and 2. Oncologist 5 (Suppl 2): 9-12, 2000.
  18. Passik SD, Kirsh KL: A pilot examination of the impact of cancer patients' fatigue on their spousal caregivers. Palliat Support Care 3 (4): 273-9, 2005.
  19. Ancoli-Israel S, Liu L, Marler MR, et al.: Fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms prior to chemotherapy for breast cancer. Support Care Cancer 14 (3): 201-9, 2006.
  20. Jacobsen PB, Hann DM, Azzarello LM, et al.: Fatigue in women receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer: characteristics, course, and correlates. J Pain Symptom Manage 18 (4): 233-42, 1999.
  21. National Comprehensive Cancer Network: NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Cancer-Related Fatigue. Version 1.2014. Fort Washington, Pa: National Comprehensive Cancer Network, 2014. Available online. Last accessed August 28, 2014.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: 8/, 015
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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