What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. It is a very common problem for people with cancer. It can be caused by cancer itself or the side effects of treatments. As many as 9 out of 10 people with cancer (90%) get cancer-related fatigue (CRF).

It affects everyone differently, but it can make daily activities difficult. This can be frustrating and overwhelming. It can be especially difficult when you are already coping with cancer.

Cancer-related fatigue usually gets better after treatment finishes. But for some people, it may continue for months or even years. Everyone is different and there is no way to know how long fatigue may last for you.

Tell your doctors and nurses about your fatigue and how it affects your life. They may be able to tell you about ways to manage the symptoms or treat the causes. For example, keeping active can help your fatigue. You may also find it helpful to keep a fatigue diary.

Fatigue and cancer

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. It is a very common problem for people with cancer.

As many as 9 out of 10 people with cancer (90%) may feel fatigued at some time. This is called cancer-related fatigue or CRF. The causes of CRF are not fully understood. It may be caused by the cancer itself or its symptoms. It can also be a side effect of treatment.

Fatigue can be especially difficult to deal with when you are already trying to cope with cancer. You may feel very tired or exhausted all or most of the time.

CRF is different from the tiredness that someone without cancer may get. People with cancer may get tired more quickly after less activity. Their fatigue may not be helped by rest or sleep.

For most people, fatigue gets better after treatment finishes. But for some it may continue for months or sometimes years. Everyone is different and there is no way to know how long fatigue may last for each person.

It is important to tell your doctors and nurses about your fatigue and how it makes you feel. Be honest and don’t say you feel fine if you do not. There may be things they can do to help. For example, it can help to treat the causes of fatigue, such as anaemia or sleeplessness.

There are also things you can do for yourself that may help you cope. For example, it can help to find ways to pace yourself through the day. Trying to stay physically active can also help. We have more information on living with fatigue and how you can best manage it.


The effects of fatigue

Some people find their fatigue is very mild and it does not really affect their daily life. But for others, it is very disruptive.

The different levels of fatigue are described in our fatigue diary.

Some of the more common effects of fatigue include:

  • difficulty doing simple things, such as brushing your hair or getting dressed
  • feeling you have no energy or strength
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • difficulty thinking, speaking or making decisions
  • feeling breathless after light activity
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • losing interest in sex
  • feeling low in mood and more emotional than usual.

Having one or more of these effects can affect your daily activities or social life. For example, finding it hard to concentrate may affect your work or studies. If you need to take time off or stop working because of fatigue, then it may start to affect you financially.

Fatigue can also affect your relationships. You may need to rest more, meaning you might spend less time with friends and family. Or you may avoid going out or being with friends because it makes you very tired.

Fatigue may also affect you if you are living with other health conditions. For example, people who have diabetes may already be coping with tiredness caused by the diabetes. But cancer-related fatigue may make this worse.

There are things you can do to help manage fatigue. Getting help and support from your healthcare team may help prevent or relieve some of these effects. It may also help improve your quality of life.

I realised fairly quickly that the more I did nothing, the more tired and fatigued I felt. Then I’d end up feeling sorry for myself – it was a vicious circle.

Jane

Back to Tiredness (fatigue)

What causes fatigue?

The cause of cancer-related-fatigue (CRF) is not fully understood. There may be many reasons for it.

Living with fatigue

Planning ahead can help if you have fatigue. There are things you can do to make everyday life easier.