Fatigue after bowel cancer treatment
Tiredness (fatigue) is probably the most common side effect of bowel cancer treatment.
You may lack energy and find doing everyday tasks exhausting. Rest often doesn’t make it better. It can affect the way you think and feel, and even things you usually enjoy, such as reading or watching TV, can be difficult. It can affect your relationships and make you impatient with people around you. You may avoid socialising because it’s too much effort.
It’s not unusual for fatigue to last for many months after treatment is over. Occasionally, in some people, it may last for a year or two.
If you’re experiencing fatigue you may:
feel that you’ve got no energy or strength and could spend whole days in bed
have difficulty doing the smallest chores, and everyday activities like showering or cooking can seem impossible
have difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, or in making decisions and remembering things
feel breathless after very little exertion, or feel dizzy or light-headed
have sleep problems
lose interest in sex
feel more emotional than usual.
Recovering from cancer treatments can take time and fatigue is often a part of this.
Sometimes fatigue is linked to problems such as depression, sleep problems, pain, anaemia or thyroid problems. So it’s important to find out if there’s a particular cause of your fatigue so that it can be treated.
Your doctor can take blood samples to find out if you have anaemia (low number of red blood cells), or to find out if your thyroid gland is underactive. Both of these conditions can be treated with medicines.
Fatigue is a common symptom of depression. It’s not unusual to feel depressed, anxious or stressed after treatment for cancer. If you think you’re depressed, talk to your doctor or nurse. You and your doctor will be able to work out if what you’re feeling is depression or fatigue. Talking about your feelings with a professional counsellor can often help depression, and antidepressants may help you feel better.
If sleep or pain problems are causing or contributing to your fatigue, then improving these will help you feel better.
The quality of your sleep is important and you can read more about ways of getting a better night-time rest in our section about coping with fatigue.
Coping with pain is tiring and also affects the quality of your sleep. If you have effective treatment for your pain, this may improve your energy levels.
What you can do to help yourself
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Taking care of yourself is very important and can help you to feel better.
Regular exercise can help to reduce fatigue and build up your energy levels. It doesn’t need to be strenuous – short walks are a good way to begin. Exercise also helps you to sleep better and can improve anxiety and depression. You can read more in our section on physical activity and cancer treatment.
Complementary therapies may help to reduce stress and anxiety, and may improve fatigue. Relaxation, counselling and psychological support are available at many cancer treatment hospitals. You can read more in our section on cancer and complementary therapies.
Keep to a routine. Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time each day can help. Try not to stay in bed in the morning after you’ve woken up.
Eat well and keep to as healthy a diet as possible. This can help you feel better and may help you to have more energy.
Allow people (family, friends, neighbours, social workers, carers) to help you. Generally people are glad to help, particularly if you can tell them what you need.
Make a list of tasks you’d like help with such as taking out rubbish, paying bills or setting up direct debits to pay bills. If you have access to the internet, shopping can be done online and delivered to your home.
Problems with concentration and memory are also common with fatigue and can be frustrating to deal with.
Denton had to cope with fatigue after he had treatment for prostate cancer. Watch a video of him explaining how it affected him.