Accepting the fatigue that comes with having cancer and the treatments you’ll need for it is difficult. What’s referred to in the medical world as “cancer-related fatigue” (CRF) is both common and a distressing side effect of cancer and cancer treatments—especially because rest and sleep aren’t enough to overcome the problem. Cancer-related fatigue can last months or years after cancer diagnosis and treatment. People experiencing CRF describe it as feeling tired, weak, slow, and having no energy. With no means to relieve their symptoms, people with CRF report feeling depressed and helpless. It’s frustrating to be unable to perform regular physical activity like walking, climbing stairs or even eating.
Almost all people receiving cancer treatment, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy, report symptoms of CRF. The physical, psychological and emotional implications of this long-lasting exhaustion can be deeply disruptive. Some people find it to be the most troublesome of all cancer-related symptoms, more difficult to deal with than other treatment side effects, including nausea and vomiting.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Because different cancer treatments can also cause different symptoms of CRF, your doctor will work with you to find the type of treatment that’s most helpful to you.
“Fatigue is a potential long-term side effect of cancer,” says Tara Sanft, MD, a medical oncologist and director of Yale Cancer Center’s Cancer Survivorship Program. “At the Survivorship Program, we spend a lot of time tackling issues regarding fatigue related to treatment.” She and her team help patients by developing an individual care plan to help with any number of issues that can result from cancer such as tiredness, appearance, fear of recurrence and getting back to—or trying to start—an exercise regimen.