Managing Cancer-Related Fatigue
Cancer-related fatigue is an intense feeling
of exhaustion. It is the most common side
effect of cancer and cancer treatment.
It is different from the fatigue caused by the
demands of daily living. It can come on
quickly and last beyond the time of
treatment. It can keep you from enjoying the
things that you like to do. Rest may not help
it go away.
The person with fatigue is the only one
who really knows about the existence and
severity of that fatigue. There are no tests
or scans or physical changes to measure how
much fatigue a person is having. That’s why
it is important to tell your nurses and
doctors about fatigue.
Signs and Symptoms
Heaviness in your body
Lack of interest in work, friends, and
The exact cause of the fatigue is not known.
Some of the most common causes are:
the cancer itself
chemotherapy or radiation
low blood counts
emotional concerns such as
depression, fear, worry, or anxiety
Tracking your fatigue
Keep a daily diary of your fatigue symptoms. This can help you figure out patterns in your
fatigue. You can use this 0 – 10 scale to measure your levels of fatigue.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fatigue Fatigue Possible
Write down your level of fatigue and the
activities you do during the day. After a few
days, look over your diary to see if you can
find any patterns. Are there events that
seem to tire you out? Are there other things
that seem to give you a boost in energy? If
you find a pattern, use it to help plan your
routines. Try to avoid the things that make
you feel tired, and do more of those that
boost your energy level.
Talking about fatigue with your health
Bring your diary with you to your clinic
visits. If your doctor or nurse know how
severe your fatigue is and when it happens,
they will be better able to help you. In some
cases, medicines or a blood transfusion may
What you can do to manage fatigue
While you may not be able to prevent or
avoid fatigue completely, there are things
you can do to help reduce it.
1. Saving energy
Plan: Plan in advance. Space
activities throughout the day.
Balance them with plenty of rest.
Learn to ask for help and accept it.
Make a list of chores that need to be
done. Knowing exact ways to help
you will make other people feel good
Prioritize: Decide which activities
you really want to do. Save your
energy for them.
Pace: Take rests as needed during
and between activities. Try to rest
before you become exhausted. If you
find you feel exhausted – STOP!
Position: Save energy where you
can. Sit down while you work. Get
special equipment if needed. Set up
your house to be more efficient.
Restore energy: Some activities can
boost your energy level. Take time
for things you really enjoy. Below
are a few ideas:
o Listen to music
o Spend time with friends and
o Take a walk
Try to get a good night’s sleep. These
tips may help you get enough rest.
Take short naps or breaks rather than
one long nap during the day. Short
naps (less than 30 minutes) can
energize you. Long naps may leave
you feeling more fatigued and may
disrupt your nighttime sleep.
Read a book or take a bath before
bed to help you relax.
Try to keep regular sleep times. Go
to sleep and get up at the same time
Follow a nightly routine before going
If you are not sleeping well at night,
talk to your doctor or nurse. They
may suggest medicine to help you
If you drink caffeine, drink it early in
the day and in moderation.
Too much rest or sleep can make you feel
20-30 minutes of exercise (such as
walking) 3-5 times a week can reduce
fatigue. Talk to your doctor before
starting an exercise program.
Proper nutrition can also help reduce
fatigue. You may have problems eating.
This may be caused by: fatigue, poor
appetite, nausea, vomiting, or feelings of
Eat small meals more often.
Allow someone else to cook for you,
or use frozen or easy to prepare
Talk with your nurse or doctor if you
are having trouble eating or if you
are concerned about your diet.
Cold foods may be more appealing if
you are having sensitivity to smells
Talking with your family and friends
Share your feelings about fatigue with
friends and family. Let them know what
they can do to help you. Not talking about
your fatigue can lead to resentment and
feelings of guilt.
Sometimes it is very helpful to talk with
others who are going through the same
thing. Your nurse can give you a list of
Call your doctor or nurse if:
You feel short of breath.
You feel lightheaded.
You feel confused or cannot think
You have been too tired to get out of
bed for the past 24 hours.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 9/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4384