Fatigue in Cancer Definition

As fatigue in cancer, a severe depletion condition is referred to, which is not resolved by recreation and relaxation measures. More than 75 percent of all cancer patients describe fatigue with cancer as very stressful. The word “fatigue” is derived from French or English and means: tiredness, weariness, exhaustion.

What is cancer fatigue?

According to Phonejust, fatigue in cancer is a pathological, chronic state of exhaustion and fatigue, which cannot be influenced by recovery measures such as rest breaks or sleep. In addition to the pronounced physical weakness and fatigue, those affected also feel psychologically exhausted or drained.

Cancer fatigue should not be confused with CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CSF).

An important criterion is the type of cancer. Fatigue in cancer is particularly common in breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia and lymphoma. The type of cancer treatment also plays a major role. Cancer fatigue has a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing. The quality of life is considerably reduced, which, in addition to the ever decreasing performance, can also lead to depression.


A specific cause of fatigue in cancer has not yet been clarified. However, various factors play a major role in its development. These include cancer itself and its effects on the body and psyche.

Treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy also put a strain on the human organism, which can lead to tiredness and exhaustion. Unwanted side effects in the treatment of cancer are often anemia, fever, pain and nausea, which can lead to fatigue in cancer. Many cancer patients are often malnourished, so that the body is no longer supplied with the necessary nutrients, which in turn can lead to a chronic state of exhaustion and thus to cancer fatigue.

The cancer itself, as well as the therapies, can have a negative effect on the body’s metabolism. This can result in premature menopause or in the thyroid gland becoming underactive. These metabolic disorders are known to accelerate the breakdown of energy reserves and thus promote fatigue in cancer. Other diseases that promote fatigue in cancer include the nervous diseases Parkinson ‘s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

As a rule, fatigue in cancer always has a very negative effect on the quality of life of the person affected and significantly reduces it. The further course and the symptoms also depend very much on the exact severity and position of the cancer, so that a general prediction is not possible. First and foremost, fatigue in cancer leads to severe tiredness and exhaustion of the person concerned.

The patients also show a significantly reduced resilience and appear exhausted. They often do not take an active part in everyday life and always need help in everyday life. Likewise, fatigue in cancer can lead to sleep problems and general weakness in those affected. Likewise, many patients show severe listlessness and disorders of concentration or coordination.

The patient’s everyday life is severely restricted by the disease. The illness can also lead to psychological complaints or depression. Many of those affected also suffer from anemia and can thereby also lose consciousness or fall into a coma. The severity of the symptoms, however, can vary widely and is further exacerbated by chemotherapy.

Diagnosis & course

In order to be able to diagnose fatigue in cancer, it is necessary for the person affected to describe their symptoms as precisely as possible. For this purpose, special questionnaires have been developed, with the support of which the oncologist and the family doctor can clarify whether there is fatigue in cancer.

After questioning the symptoms, it is important to find the cause of the fatigue in cancer. Various examinations are used here, such as blood tests or ultrasound. With their help, it can be clarified whether there are deficiency symptoms, metabolic diseases or infections. A further detailed questionnaire reveals whether the patient is taking other medication or whether, for example, there is also depression.

The course of fatigue in cancer varies greatly, as the intensity of the disease varies from patient to patient and the causes can also be found in the most varied of areas. As a guideline for fatigue in cancer, it can be assumed that, depending on the type of cancer treatment, fatigue usually sets in 3 to 5 days after the start of chemotherapy.

The longer the treatment lasts and the more often a chemotherapy cycle is repeated, the higher the risk that the cancer patient will develop cancer fatigue. It was observed that cancer fatigue completely disappeared within one to two months during the operation. With chemotherapy, cancer fatigue was extended to several months, and with immunotherapy, cancer fatigue was sometimes so pronounced that the treatment sometimes had to be interrupted.


For many cancer patients, fatigue is a result of treatment with radiation or aggressive chemotherapy. Severe exhaustion is itself a complication of cancer treatment. Beyond all fears and pain, the subsequent exhaustion often means a considerable reduction in quality of life.

Those affected can avoid further complications in their already difficult life through an active life and accompanying psychotherapy. Typical complications of cancer-related fatigue include social withdrawal, constant headaches, decreased performance, or drowsiness. In older cancer patients, circulatory disorders in the brain, depression or shortness of breath can also occur.

The possible complications depend on the type, aggressiveness and location of the cancer focus. But they are also possible due to the treatment. For example, some patients can cope better with tumor radiation than with aggressive chemotherapy. These leach the organism. They transform the previously good nutrient situation into a dramatic deficiency situation.

Fatigue in cancer means constantly working against exhaustion, managing your fears of relapse, and following a diet that corrects the nutritional deficiency. Mental disorders and fears can be treated with psychosocial support. Tumor-associated fatigue is not itself a depression.

However, it can trigger depression. These impair the patient’s resistance. Therefore, tumor-associated fatigue is a complication of many cancers that requires treatment.

When should you go to the doctor?

In most cases, cancer fatigue is treated directly as part of tumor treatment, so that an additional visit to a doctor for diagnosis is no longer necessary. However, the disease cannot be completely restricted, and the further course of the disease also depends very much on the type of tumor and its spread. A doctor should always be consulted if the patient’s everyday life is severely restricted by fatigue in cancer or if the person concerned is suffering from pain.

A visit to the doctor is therefore particularly suitable if the patient suffers from sleep disorders or depression, as a healthy psyche can have a positive effect on the course of cancer. In severe cases, those affected with this disease have to go to a hospital if the symptoms cannot be treated at home or with the help of medication.

A visit to the doctor is also advisable if the person concerned needs care by a nurse and can no longer cope with everyday life on their own. The side effects can be very severe, especially with chemotherapy, and should therefore always be checked by a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of fatigue in cancer must be individually tailored to the patient. The most important criterion here is communication between doctor and patient. Only when the doctor has as much information as possible can a successful treatment plan be created.

Depending on the symptoms, physical exercise in the form of endurance training, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and swimming can be considered. Relaxation exercises such as autogenic training, yoga or Qi Gong also have a positive effect on fatigue in cancer.

Since there are often problems falling asleep and staying asleep, a visit to the sleep laboratory can help. The psyche and its stability play a very important role, which is why it makes sense to carry out behavioral therapy in the company of physical and medicinal therapy forms.


The preventive measures for cancer fatigue are limited. It is important to seek professional help as soon as the cancer is diagnosed. Light physical activity, a healthy diet and adequate sleep are recommended prophylactic measures. The most important factor is not to conceal the symptoms and complaints and to speak openly with the doctor about them, as each case is different due to the individuality of the fatigue in cancer.


The so-called fatigue in cancer is a common phenomenon. This form of exhaustion occurs as a result of radiation or chemotherapy treatments. In addition to regular medical examinations, psychotherapeutic measures and nutritional medicine measures are of greater importance as part of cancer follow-up care.

Chronic fatigue can persist for years after medical treatment has long since ended. The associated exhaustion stresses the affected person to different degrees. The better the aftercare for fatigue is geared towards the individual, the more promising are the measures taken.

The oncological follow-up care carried out on an outpatient or inpatient basis can in this case include an attempt at fatigue rehabilitation. For all offers, the degree of exhaustion of the treated patients is decisive. Avoid overburdening those affected. Psychological support is often provided in groups of people who are similarly affected. One-on-one interviews are also possible. Instructions for individual activity management are given.

A cognitive training program and exercise therapy based on individual criteria are also part of the follow-up treatment for fatigue after cancer. Relaxation processes or so-called mind-body therapies such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, MBSR or Qi Gong can provide valuable support for fatigue. Nutritional advice or therapy provides nutrients so that the stressed and exhausted organism can regenerate. If necessary, pharmacological accompanying therapy can supplement the follow-up care.

You can do that yourself

The excruciating exhaustion and constant tiredness associated with cancer are an enormous burden in everyday life. In order to best cope with the daily routine with fatigue, self-help plays the key role.

The first and most important step concerns your own family. It is difficult for her to put herself in the position of the sick member, both physically and mentally. A conversation helps to describe one’s own needs. The result is a much more understanding home atmosphere. After that, it will be easier to conserve the remaining strength.

First and foremost, this includes dividing the daily work into small steps and planning short recovery phases. A diet that gives the emaciated body new strength also contributes significantly to relief. This succeeds with varied and wholesome food. It is helpful to have a menu that includes the preferences of all relatives.

Furthermore, those affected should try to regain their former fitness to strengthen their self-esteem. At the beginning, walks are suitable, later light endurance sports such as hiking, cycling or swimming. Fitness studios or supervised cancer sports groups offer alternatives.

At the same time, these activities stimulate social contacts with friends. The familiar way of life is gradually returning and giving the long-missed boost. Contacts with self-help groups provide additional relief. They show other reliable ways to cope with the disease and enable the exchange of experiences with third parties.

Fatigue in Cancer