Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. It can happen during or after treatment.

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Listen to our podcast on Managing Cancer Fatigue

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is when you feel very tired, weak, drained and worn out. Cancer-related fatigue is different to normal tiredness because it doesn’t always go away with rest or sleep. Some people describe it as mental and physical exhaustion.

Research shows that most people experience fatigue after a cancer diagnosis.

Even though it is common, managing fatigue is an important part of cancer care. Talk to your health care team about support and treatment.

What are the symptoms?

Fatigue affects people with cancer in different ways. The way you feel can change over time and fatigue may be different before, during and after treatment.

Some symptoms may be:

  • having little or no energy
  • muscle aches and pains
  • weakness or slowness
  • trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • not being able to do daily tasks.

Feeling fatigued does not usually mean the cancer has advanced. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

What causes fatigue?

Fatigue can be caused by:

  • the cancer itself and cancer treatments
  • medicine, such as pain relief
  • side effects of treatment, like low red blood cells (anaemia) or pain
  • changes to what you eat
  • stress and mood changes, including depression
  • sleeping difficulties
  • a lack of physical activity
  • other health problems, such as infection.

How long does it last?

Fatigue can last throughout cancer treatment and for some time after it is finished. Energy levels usually improve over time. Most people find they feel better 6-12 months after treatment ends. For some people, fatigue can continue for a longer period of time.

If you have advanced cancer, see Living with advanced cancer for more information.

The impact of fatigue

Fatigue can be severe and distressing. Some people say fatigue is the most difficult side effect of cancer. Sometimes people might look well but still be experiencing severe fatigue. Fatigue can make it hard to do everyday things, creating feelings of frustration and isolation. If you have continued feelings of frustration or sadness, talk to your doctor. You may have low mood or depression, and treatment may help.

   — Susan

Managing fatigue

The first step in managing fatigue is working out how it affects you. Start by talking to your GP, nurse or specialist doctor about how you are feeling, including how long you have felt fatigued.

It may help to write down how you are feeling from day to day. This can help you to learn when you have the most and least energy.

You may have tests to see what could be causing the fatigue. If possible, the health care team will treat conditions like pain or anaemia that might be contributing to the fatigue. You may need a referral to a specialist or a fatigue clinic (if available).

Exercise to manage fatigue

It is important to be as physically active as is safe before, during and after cancer treatment. Research shows that exercise can help manage ongoing effects of cancer and its treatment, including fatigue. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you, especially if you are living with bone cancer or advanced cancer.

Exercise physiologists and physiotherapists can help with safe, appropriate exercise plans. You may also be able to join a local community-based exercise class or group for people with cancer.

For more on this, watch our exercise videos for people affected by cancer, or go to Exercise during cancer treatment.

   — Susan

Sleep and cancer

Research shows that people experiencing cancer fatigue often have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much. This can make fatigue worse, so it is important to speak with your health care team.

It may help to set up a bedtime routine including relaxing activities, such as meditation. Avoid using computers, mobile phones or tablets in the evening, and keep naps during the day short.

You might like to consider counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as these may help with fatigue and sleep problems. Speak with your GP about options in your area.

Tips for managing fatigue

The best way to manage fatigue will depend on your individual situation, but the following general tips may help you to manage day to day:

  • Plan a loose daily schedule or routine based on how you are feeling.
  • Save your energy for what you want or need to do most.
  • Pace yourself. Try to attend to one thing at a time and include regular short breaks throughout the day. Rest when you need to.
  • Eat as well as possible, drink lots of water, and avoid smoking and alcohol.
  • Be physically active – ask your health care team how to exercise safely for your situation.
  • Try relaxation and meditation techniques.
  • If you can, ask family, friends or neighbours to help you.
  • Listen to our podcast The Thing About Cancer for tips on how to manage fatigue, and sleep and cancer.
  • Your local council or social worker can put you in touch with organisations for help at home (such as house cleaning, meals or shopping). Sometimes these services are free.
  • Remember fatigue usually gets better over time.

Your health care team is trained to assess your situation and help you manage fatigue. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

   — Susan

Questions for your doctor

When you talk to your doctor about fatigue, you may want to ask some questions.

  • What is causing the fatigue?
  • Do I need a blood test to investigate the causes of the fatigue?
  • Is there anything that I should avoid doing?
  • What can help me to sleep better?
  • When will I have more energy?
  • Can a social worker or occupational therapist talk to me about help at home?
  • What exercise or activity do you recommend?
  • Can you refer me to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who works with cancer patients experiencing fatigue?
  • Are there fatigue clinics or local group programs that I can access?

Click on the icon below to download a fact sheet on fatigue and cancer

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
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Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2019
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Cancer information

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