Breast Cancer Fatigue Often Lingers

Study: Nearly a Third of Patients Report Fatigue 5-10 Years After Treatment

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 9, 2006 -- Years after treatment for breast cancer, many women still face fatigue, especially those with depression or other health problems, a new study shows.

The study, published in Cancer, included 763 women who were disease-free survivors and had been treated for early breast cancer.

Nearly a third of the women (34%) reported fatigue 5 to 10 years after diagnosis. More than one in five had also noted fatigue in an earlier survey.

Fatigue was most common in women with low incomes, depression, and conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and arthritis, the study shows.

Survivors who report fatigue should be carefully screened for depression, write the researchers. They included Julienne Bower, PhD, of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Tired or Not?

Breast cancer is women's most common cancer, except for nonmelanoma skin cancer. Breast cancer survival is improving, so the researchers tracked a group of patients for more than a decade after diagnosis.

Men can also get breast cancer, but all participants in this study were women. They lived in Los Angeles and Washington and were about 59 years old, on average, at the study's end.

The women completed surveys within five years of breast cancer diagnosis and again within a decade after diagnosis.

The women rated how often they felt "full of pep," "had a lot of energy," "felt worn out," or "felt tired" during the past four weeks. The surveys also covered depression, health problems, and type of cancer treatment.

Tired After Cancer

Fatigued women were more likely to report depression, fear of cancer's return, and more bodily pain, hot flashes, and night sweats than those who weren't fatigued.

Fatigue was also more commonly noted by women who had gotten radiation and chemotherapy, compared with those who had only had radiation therapy. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used after breast cancer surgery to kill any lingering cancer cells.

Tamoxifen, a drug often taken to prevent the return of hormone-sensitive breast cancer, wasn't linked to fatigue.

Why were the women tired? The study doesn't show that. Many physical and emotional factors affect fatigue, the researchers note. It's normal for people to feel tired during cancer treatment, they add.

Resilient Group

Overall, the women were "resilient," write Bower and colleagues.

The study "suggests that persistent fatigue is experienced by a minority of women in the aftermath of cancer diagnosis and treatment," the researchers write.

No one knows which, if any, participants were suffering from fatigue before breast cancer diagnosis. Only 61% of women approached for this study took part. Women who declined to participate may have been the most fatigued of all, the researchers write.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 09, 2006


SOURCES: Bower, J. Cancer, Feb. 15, 2006; vol 106. News release, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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