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Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatments. It is different to just being tired and can impact on your lifestyle. However, there are ways to manage it.  

What is cancer-related fatigue

Fatigue is when you feel very tired, weak, drained and worn out. Cancer-related fatigue is different from tiredness because it is more severe, not the result of recent physical or mental activity, and generally doesn’t get better with rest or sleep. It can be ongoing and affect what you can do. 

Who is affected? 

Research shows that most people experience some level of fatigue, before, during and after treatment for cancer, and some people may feel fatigue for months or years after treatment ends. People who are most at risk of developing cancer-related fatigue have fatigue before the cancer diagnosis; have depression or anxiety; sleep issues; other health conditions; and don’t do much exercise.

Cancer-related fatigue may be mild, moderate or severe. It can vary depending on cancer type, stage, how long you have treatment, and your age. It may be worse if you have more than one treatment or if cancer has advanced. 

What are the symptoms of fatigue? 

Cancer-related fatigue affects people in different ways and the way you feel may change over time. Some symptoms may include muscle aches and pains; having little or no energy; having problems sleeping; finding it difficult to concentrate and weakness.  

What causes fatigue?  

Fatigue can by caused by the cancer itself or cancer treatments. Other causes may be changes in your diet; other side effects from treatment; stress or a lack of physical activity.  

How long does fatigue last? 

Cancer-related fatigue is different to normal tiredness as it doesn’t always go away after sleep or rest. Fatigue can continue throughout your treatment and even for some time after it. Most people will start to feel better 6-12 months after treatment ends but some may find the fatigue continues for longer than that.  

How can fatigue be managed?  

Some people say that fatigue is the most difficult side effect of cancer and it can be distressing. To help manage your fatigue talk to your GP, specialist doctor or nurse about how you are feeling and how long you have been experiencing fatigue. Some ways to manage fatigue include regular exercise, setting up a bedtime routine to help you relax, eating well and avoiding smoking and alcohol.  

Where can I get reliable information?  

Cancer Council’s podcast “the Thing About Cancer” includes tips on managing fatigue, sleep and cancer.  

Talk to your health care team as they are trained to assess your situation and help you manage fatigue.  You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.  

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