Cancer Related Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes, and Mangement Topic Guide

Cancer Fatigue (Symptoms and Treatments) Cancer Fatigue (Symptoms and Treatments):

Cancer fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. Moreover, fatigue can be a symptom of cancer. The fatigue experienced with cancer is different than fatigue experienced by healthy people. People describe it as feeling worn out, heavy, slow, weak, extremely tired, and in pain. In some people, fatigue can last up to a year or more after treatment stops.

Doctors do not know exactly how cancer treatments cause fatigue, but they do know what causes it in people who have cancer, or who are undergoing cancer treatment, for example:

Fatigue from surgery generally gets better with time, however, it can worsen if surgery is combined with other cancer treatments.

Doctors have studied patients with breast and prostate cancer who suffer from fatigue and found that the amount of fatigue experienced, and the time it was felt, varied from patient to patient.

Women with breast cancer reported that fatigue was increased by:
  • Having other health problems or advanced cancer
  • Being a younger age
  • Being underweight
  • Problems sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Having children at home
  • Working while receiving radiation treatment

Men with prostate cancer reported that fatigue  increased before radiation therapy started due to depression and/or poor sleep.

Talk with your doctor or other health care professional about how to treat and manage your cancer-related fatigue.


Bower, JE, Ph.D. Cancer-related fatigue: Mechanisms, risk factors, and treatments. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2014 Oct; 11(10): 597–609. Published online 2014 Aug 12. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2014.127.

Bower, JE, Ph.D. Behavioral symptoms in breast cancer patients and survivors: Fatigue, insomnia, depression, and cognitive disturbance. J Clin Oncol. 2008 Feb 10; 26(5): 768–777. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2007.14.3248

NIH. National Cancer Institute. "Fatigue (PDQ®)-Patient Version. Updated: June 30, 2017.

NIH. National Cancer Institute. "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment." Updated: May 2014.

IH. National Cancer Institute. "Fatigue." Updated: Apr 29, 2015.

NIH. National Cancer Institute. "Managing Radiation Therapy Side Effects." April 2010.

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