It is common to feel very tired during or after treatment, and you may lack the energy to carry out day-to-day activities. Fatigue for people with cancer is different from tiredness, as it may not go away with rest or sleep. You may lose interest in things that you usually enjoy doing or feel unable to concentrate on one thing for very long. For some people, fatigue continues for months or years after treatment ends.
Let your treatment team know if you are struggling with fatigue. Sometimes fatigue can be caused by a low red blood cell count, or be a side effect of drugs or a sign of depression, which can all be treated. There are often programs available through hospitals and treatment centres to help you manage fatigue.
For more on this, see Fatigue and cancer.
Tips for managing fatigue
- Plan your day. Set small manageable goals and rest before you get too tired.
- Try to keep your schedule as regular as possible, e.g. avoid sleeping in, go to bed at your usual time, and take a short nap if you get tired during the day.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep energy levels up.
- Regular light to moderate exercise has been shown to reduce fatigue. Even a walk around the block can help. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can develop an exercise program for you, but talk to your doctor first.
- Ask for and accept help from family and friends, e.g. with shopping or childcare.
- Don’t expect to be able to do everything you used to do right away. Gradually increase the amount of activity you do each day.
Podcast: Managing Cancer Fatigue
A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Sophie Beaumont, Head of Dental Oncology, Dental Practitioner, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Bena Brown, Speech Pathologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Senior Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, QLD; Dr Teresa Brown, Assistant Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Ben Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, GenesisCare Rockhampton and Brisbane, QLD; Elaine Cook, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Andrew Foreman, Specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Tony Houey, Consumer; Dr Annette Lim, Medical Oncologist and Clinician Researcher – Head and Neck and Non-melanoma Skin Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne, VIC; Paula Macleod, Head, Neck and Thyroid Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Aoife McGarvey, Physiotherapist and Accredited Lymphoedema Practitioner, Physio Living, Newcastle, NSW; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Teresa Simpson Senior Clinician, Psycho-Oncology Social Work Service, Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW.
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