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Fatigue & Cancer

- Summary
- About fatigue
- Related symptoms
- Fatigue as a symptom
- Fatigue as a side effect
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Martin E. Liebling, M.D., FACP


Fatigue is the most common symptom experienced by patients diagnosed with cancer. It can be a symptom of the disease or a side effect caused by treatment.  Fatigue may also indicate that cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

Fatigue can seriously impede normal functioning and interfere with a patient’s ability to maintain healthy relationships or derive pleasure from activities. It is characterized by more than just a feeling of tiredness. It is defined as a complete lack of energy or feeling of debilitating tiredness. Feelings of fatigue vary for every individual and may be more severe in some patients than others.  It also may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as headaches and irritability.

Diagnosis of fatigue in a patient typically begins with a review of the medical history and a physical examination. Factors important in the history include type and stage of cancer, treatments and pattern of fatigue. To accurately assess fatigue, the physician may ask patients to rate their fatigue on a scale of zero to 10, where a rating of 10 indicates maximum fatigue.  Because all of the cancer-specific causes of fatigue have not been determined, the treatments are designed to address physical symptoms and emotional difficulties. Common treatments include psychostimulant drugs, exercise and adhering to an activity and rest schedule.

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Review Date: 12-14-2006

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