- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- Feeling tired and lacking energy
Feeling tired and lacking energy
Feeling tired and lacking energy (fatigue) is the most common side effect of chemotherapy. Fatigue can include feeling exhausted, drowsy, confused or impatient. You may have a heavy feeling in your limbs, get worn out quickly, or find it difficult to do daily activities.
Fatigue can appear suddenly, and rest may not relieve it. You might still feel tired for weeks or months after a treatment cycle ends. While fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy, it can also be a symptom of depression. For more information on depression, visit beyondblue and talk to your cancer care team.
I had no idea that I would still be feeling tired five months after finishing treatment. I didn’t know how to make it better and I was scared that’s how it would be: that I wouldn’t go back to normal, that I would never go back to having energy again.
Tips for managing fatigue
- Plan activities for the time of day when you tend to feel most energetic.
- Allow your body to recover by taking regular breaks.
- Make time for regular exercise. Light to moderate exercise can reduce treatment-related fatigue and improve mood. Talk to your health care team about suitable activities for you. See Exercise During Cancer, to find out about suitable exercises, and to watch our helpful series of exercise videos.
- Ask for, and accept, offers of support from family, friends and neighbours. They can help with shopping, driving, housework or gardening.
- If you have children, ask trusted family and friends to look after them during your chemotherapy sessions and to be on call in case you become unwell afterwards.
- Find ways to manage anxiety and/or trouble sleeping as these can affect fatigue. Relaxation or meditation exercises may help improve your sleep or give you more energy. Call 13 11 20, listen to our relaxation and meditation audio tracks, or listen to The Thing About Cancer podcast episodes on fatigue and sleep.
- Consider trying acupuncture – some studies suggest this may help reduce physical tiredness after chemotherapy.
- See our information on poor appetite, nausea and/or vomiting.
- Check with your doctor whether your fatigue is related to low levels of red blood cells (anaemia). Anaemia can be treated.
- Discuss the impact of the treatment with your employer. Some workplaces may allow you to work flexibly during or after chemotherapy. Options include taking a few weeks off, reducing your hours or working from home.
Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Julie Bolton, Consumer; Keely Gordon-King, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; John Jameson, Consumer; Dr Zarnie Lwin, Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Felicia Roncolato, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
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