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Colorectal Cancer and Fatigue

Tiredness happens to everyone -- it's a feeling you expect after certain activities or at the end of the day. Usually, you know why you are tired and a good night's sleep solves the problem. 

Fatigue, which is often confused with tiredness, is a daily lack of energy, a whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep. It can last for a short time (a month or less) or stay around longer (1-6 months or longer). Fatigue can prevent you from functioning normally and gets in the way of things you enjoy or need to do.

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Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of colorectal cancer and its treatment. It is not predictable by tumor type, treatment, or stage of illness. Usually, it comes on suddenly, does not result from activity or exertion, and is not relieved by rest or sleep. It is often described as "paralyzing" and may continue even after treatment is complete.

In addition to fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite are common in people being treated for colorectal cancer.

What Causes Fatigue With Colorectal Cancer?

The exact reason for colorectal cancer-related fatigue is unknown. It may be related to the disease itself or its treatments.

The following colorectal cancer treatments are commonly associated with fatigue:

  • Chemotherapy. Any chemotherapy drug or regimen may cause fatigue. Fatigue usually develops after several weeks of chemotherapy. In some, fatigue lasts a few days, while others say the problem persists throughout the course of treatment and even after the treatment is complete.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation, commonly used in the treatment of rectal cancer, can cause fatigue that increases over time. This can occur regardless of the treatment site. Fatigue usually lasts from 3 to 4 weeks after treatment stops, but can continue for up to 2 to 3 months.
  • Combination therapy. More than one cancer treatment at the same time or one after the other increases the chances of developing fatigue.

Are There Other Causes of Fatigue With Colorectal Cancer?

Yes. Other fatigue-causing factors of colorectal cancer and its treatment include:

 

  • Tumor cells competing for nutrients 
  • Nutritional deficiencies that result from the side effects of treatments, such as nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, taste changes, heartburn, or diarrhea
  • Anemia; reduced blood counts from chemotherapy may lead to anemia, a blood disorder in which tissues don't get enough oxygen.
  • Medicines used to treat side effects such as nausea, pain, depression, anxiety, and seizures
  • Chronic, severe pain
  • Stress from dealing with the disease and the "unknowns," as well as from worrying about daily accomplishments or trying to meet the expectations of others
  • Trying to maintain your normal daily routine and activities during treatments; modifying your schedule and activities can help conserve energy.
  • Depression

 

 

 

What Can I Do About Fatigue With Colorectal Cancer?

The best way to combat fatigue while also battling colorectal cancer is to treat the underlying medical cause. Unfortunately, the exact cause is often unknown, or there may be multiple causes.

There are some treatments that may help improve fatigue caused by an under-active thyroid or anemia. Other causes of fatigue must be managed on an individual basis. The following guidelines should help you combat fatigue.

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