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Fatigue is a general feeling of extreme tiredness. Having a good night’s sleep doesn’t usually help. It can affect your everyday life, meaning that even simple tasks can feel exhausting and that it’s difficult to concentrate on anything.
People who have fatigue have little or no energy and find it difficult to do simple, everyday things that we usually take for granted.
As many as three quarters (75%) of people with cancer feel fatigued at some time. Fatigue can be especially difficult when you're already trying to cope with cancer.
Cancer-related fatigue, as it's commonly known, may be due to the cancer itself or may be a result of symptoms caused by the cancer. It can also be a side effect of treatment.
Fatigue affects everyone differently and can cause many different symptoms. Some people find that their fatigue is very mild and doesn’t interfere much with their daily life. However, for other people it’s extremely disruptive.
The different levels of fatigue are described in the fatigue diary| (PDF, 59 kb). Some of the more common effects include:
Fatigue can affect the way you think and feel. You may find it impossible to concentrate on anything. This may affect your work, but it can also occur with things that you usually enjoy doing – even reading or watching TV can be difficult.
Fatigue can affect your relationships with family and friends. It may make you become impatient with people around you, or you may avoid going out or being with friends because it’s too much effort.
It has taken doctors a long time to understand how big a problem fatigue is for people. Although research into its causes and treatment is still at a relatively early stage, doctors now realise that fatigue is a major side effect of cancer and its treatment. Many people find that their fatigue is as distressing and disabling as other side effects of cancer treatment.
It‘s important to tell your doctors and nurses about your fatigue and how it makes you feel, without playing it down. There are ways in which they may be able to reduce your fatigue. For example, treating the causes of fatigue (such as anaemia or sleeplessness) can help. There are also things you can do for yourself that may help you cope.
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Content last reviewed: 1 February 2012
Next planned review: 2014
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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