Fatigue

Fatigue is a very common side effect of cancer and its treatment that can make it hard for you to do everyday things such as housework, prepare meals, and run errands. It is the feeling of being physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. Sleep or rest may not make it better and it can can last for months after your treatment ends. Learn more about fatigue from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

About 90% of cancer patients receiving treatment have fatigue, but there are many ways to manage it.

Manage Fatigue

Fatigue can be a difficult symptom to live with, but there are things you can do to boost your energy and make fatigue less troublesome.

Listen to a Fatigue Audio Recording

Find out what to do when you feel very tired during cancer treatment by listening to this audio recording from the National Cancer Institute.

Set Priorities

  • Make sure you have enough energy to do the things you have to do each day. Start by identifying the most important tasks each day, and then focus your energy on those tasks.
  • Ask for help with important tasks like making meals or driving. Your friends and loved ones want to help you.
  • Plan when and if you work. Talk to your boss to plan a work schedule around your treatments.

Plan Time to Rest During the Day

If you are tired, take short naps (less than 1 hour) during the day, but don’t overdo it. Too much sleep during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night.

Get Healthy Sleep

Sleep problems are common during cancer treatment and may be caused by pain, anxiety, worry, depression, night sweats, or the side effects of treatment or medicines. You may have trouble falling asleep or sleep too much. Here are some tips for getting healthy sleep.

Keep a Regular Sleep Routine

  • Setting a routine for going to bed and getting up will help you get healthier sleep. You can also avoid caffeine or foods that contain caffeine, like chocolate, for 6 to 8 hours before you go to bed. Get other tips to help you manage sleep problems.
  • Exercise can also help promote better sleep, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

  • Tell your doctor if you’re feeling tired too much or having trouble falling asleep. Your doctor can help you find out why and what to do.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a cancer rehabilitation professional, who may be able to help you regain strength and energy after cancer treatment.
  • Watch for signs of sleep problems, like:
    • Waking up often during the night.
    • Waking up early in the morning and not falling back to sleep.
    • Not feeling rested or having no energy after sleeping.
  • Learn more about fatigue in people with cancer.

Ask Your Caregiver for Help

Your caregiver may be able to help you by keeping the room quiet and comfortable while you sleep, or assisting in your bedtime routine. Learn what else caregivers can do.

Stay Active and Eat Well

Maintaining regular moderate exercise and a healthy diet is a great way to boost your energy. Watch Angie — a breast cancer survivor — tell her story about using exercise to manage fatigue from chemotherapy.

Tips for Staying Active

Most people are safe to start a walking program or other light-moderate exercise program on their own. However, if you’ve never exercised before or you have balance problems or muscle weakness, you should check with your doctor to choose a safe exercise program before adding physical activity to your routine. You may need physical therapy or another medically supervised conditioning program.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your doctor should help you create an exercise program that you like, and that also meets your needs and keeps you safe. Be sure to tell your cancer care team about your exercise throughout your treatment. Learn more.

Keep It Safe, Simple, and Fun

If you have cancer, it may be better for you to exercise at a slower rate than people who don’t have cancer. While it’s good to stay active, be sure to base your program on what’s safe and fun for you. Learn more about exercise during cancer treatment.

Get Effective Exercise

  • Everyone’s exercise program will be different, but to get the best results you’ll want to work your heart. Pay attention to your heart rate, breathing, and muscles. Ask your doctor how best to work your heart.
  • Start slowly. Don’t work too hard or for too long. Try to start with 10 minutes of exercise at a time. Build up intensity and exercise for longer periods slowly over time.
  • Include a warm up for at least 2 to 3 minutes and a cool down.

Learn More Ways to Stay Physically Active

You may be surprised by all the different ways you can add physical activity to your daily routine, like washing your car or weeding your garden. ACS has a list of similar activities.

Watch a Physical Activity Video

This video, produced in cooperation with ACS, explains how staying active can help your health and provides tips to fit activity in during the day.

Eating Well

Eating well and staying hydrated (drinking plenty of fluids) can help you cope with the side effects of treatment. For more detailed information on healthy eating, visit Healthy Eating.

Cope with the Emotional Impact of Fatigue

Having cancer and undergoing treatment is stressful, and one symptom of long-term stress is fatigue. Try some of the following techniques to help you cope with stress and relax, and ask others for help. (You may want to check with your doctor before using any of the techniques, especially if you have lung problems.)

Deal with Stress

  • It’s normal to go through a wide range of emotions when coping with cancer and its treatments. But some behaviors that may be related to anxiety should not be ignored, including when you are not able to sleep or eat, and when you lose interest in daily activities for many days.
  • Tell your health care team how you are feeling. They care just as much about your emotional health as they do your physical health. Learn more.

Take a Quiz: What's Your Stress Level?

Take this quiz to find out how much stress  you have been dealing with lately.

Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation

  • Mindfulness is slowing down to pay attention to what’s going on right here, right now.
  • Set aside about 5 to 10 minutes a day, if possible, to practice mindfulness and relaxation exercises.

Medical Treatments for Fatigue

If you have a medical condition that is causing fatigue, treatment can help.

Treatment for Fatigue

Ask Your Doctor About Medicine

If you feel tired all the time, your doctor may give you a stimulant (medicine that makes you more alert). If you’re having trouble falling asleep, there is medicine that can help, too. Learn more.

Keep Track of Your Medications

List All the Medications You Take

Be sure to include things like vitamins, herbs, or other supplements, drugs you take, and medicines you get at the drug store. Use this medication chart from ACS to keep track of everything you’re taking. Discuss these with your cancer care team.

Get Support

For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.

Talk to Family and Friends

Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need. Watch Montessa — a lung cancer survivor — tell her story about using community resources for helping her when she was fatigued.

Find Peer Support

Talk About Your Concerns

Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.

Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online

The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.

NCI Cancer Information Service

Call

Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.

Chat

The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.

ACS National Cancer Information Center

Get Tips

Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chat

The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.

Learn More about Fatigue

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including fatigue in people with cancer and fatigue.

Action Category: 
Symptoms