Extreme and recurrent tiredness is one of the common symptoms of most types of cancers.
Extreme and recurrent tiredness is one of the common symptoms of most types of cancers.

Extreme and recurrent tiredness is one of the common symptoms of most types of cancers. Tiredness is usually considered a warning sign of cancer progressing. Tiredness related to cancers usually does not get better with adequate rest or sleep. Patients may appear exhausted with very minimal activity.

  • A cancer cell usually steals calories and robs normal cells of vital nutrients that by itself may lead to tiredness. Patients might not be eating as well as they normally would, depriving cells of vital nutrients that the body needs to function normally.
  • In bone marrow cancer, cancer cells may interfere with the normal production of blood cells leading to anemia and tiredness.
  • Likewise in cancers related to the stomach, intestine cancers usually cause tiredness because of blood loss. 
  • Cancers of the prostate and breast interfere with metabolic and hormonal processes causing extreme tiredness in the patient. 
  • All cancers produce a high amount of cytokines that are natural cell proteins that are normally released by the white blood cells in response to infection. High amounts of these cytokines can be toxic and lead to persistent tiredness.
  • Some aggressive cancers may cause swelling in certain parts of the body, making limbs heavier and harder to move contributing to tiredness overall.
  • Cancer of the lung may also cause tiredness and breathlessness.

Do cancer treatments cause tiredness?

Unfortunately, yes. Tiredness is usually a side effect of all the cancer treatments. Cancer treatments include:

  • Cancer medications: Most and even standard cancer medications that are usually prescribed to target cancer may lead to recurrent tiredness in the patients.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy usually leaves the body depleted of energy even after the therapy. Tiredness and exhaustion are one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment causes a serious sense of tiredness that typically lasts three to four weeks beyond the treatment. That isn’t always the case though. Sometimes, it will last for up to three months once the treatment ends.
  • Surgery: Surgery may leave the body facing mild, moderate, or even severe exhaustion as patients recover. Many cancers require surgery to attack cancer directly, remove tumors, and prevent the spread of cancer to other areas of the body. Surgeries vary in complexity and impact on the body, and every patient is different. 
  • Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy: Generalized tiredness is usually the side effect of targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy. Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting the differences in cancer cells that help them to grow and survive. Immunotherapy usually uses the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • Hormone treatment: Hormone treatment can cause tiredness because it blocks or lowers the number of hormones in the body. This treatment may be usually used in breast or prostate cancer.
  • Cancer-related fatigue after bone marrow transplant: It may last for up to one year after the procedure.

How can a patient manage cancer-related tiredness?

Patients with cancers and those who are on cancer treatment may need to make a few lifestyle changes to cope up with side effects such as tiredness.

  • Physical activity: Staying or becoming physically active can help relieve fatigue. The type and level of physical activity may change during and after cancer treatment. Some people may benefit from working with a physical therapist. Doctors may usually discuss with patients how to be physically fit during and after cancer treatments.
  • Counseling: Behavioral therapy may help patients to cope up with tiredness. It usually helps patients by reframing thoughts and improving sleep during cancer treatment.
  • Stress relievers: Evidence suggests that mindfulness practices, yoga, massages, music therapy, meditation, and acupuncture may reduce tiredness in cancer survivors.
  • Diet: Doctors usually prescribe a healthy diet that includes nutrients and vitamins. Alternatively, few supplements may also be prescribed.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/7/2020
References
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5230-cancer-fatigue#:

Coping up with cancer: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/physically/fatigue/what-is-cancer-fatigue

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