Fatigue is hard to describe. You feel like you don't have any energy and are tired all the time. But there's not a specific cause. You haven't been running errands all day, working out, or doing some other strenuous chore. When you're tired from exertion, if you get enough sleep that night, you usually feel better the next day. With fatigue, you feel generally tired all the time and lose interest in family, friends, and things you normally like to do.
Fatigue is the most common side effect of breast cancer treatment. Some doctors estimate that 9 out of 10 people experience fatigue at some point during treatment. Fatigue from treatment can appear suddenly, at any time, and can be overwhelming. Rest doesn't ease fatigue and it can last for months after treatment ends.
In this section, you can read about how to recognize fatigue, the possible causes of fatigue, and steps you can take to manage fatigue.
The medical experts for Fatigue are:
- Lillian Nail, Ph.D., RN, professor, Oregon Health Sciences University School of Nursing
- Russell Portenoy, M.D., neurologist, Beth Israel Medical Center and President of the Fatigue Coalition
- Marisa Weiss, M.D., chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org; breast radiation oncologist, Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health, a five-hospital health system in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA
These experts are members of the Breastcancer.org Professional Advisory Board, including more than 70 medical experts in breast cancer-related fields.
Some content was adapted from Living Beyond Breast Cancer by Marisa C. Weiss, M.D. and Ellen Weiss.
Cancer-Related Fatigue: What It Is and How to Manage It
Ashish Khanna, M.D., is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and part of the ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation Program. Listen to the podcast to hear Dr. Khanna explain how cancer-related fatigue is different from other fatigue, why exercise is the best remedy for fatigue, and steps you can take if you think you have cancer-related fatigue.
"When my treatment ended, my friends and family kept saying, 'You can't still be tired.' I finally learned to rehearse an answer for them, and say, 'You know, I thought that, too, and I did some research and found out that the fatigue doesn't always end right away. I expect it to be better, but it doesn't improve right away.' With my co-workers, I found it helpful to explain to them up front that these are the side effects resulting from the treatment I have, and this is what might happen, and this is what I might need from you, such as flexibility or scheduling. Or when I tell people I am too tired to do something, I ask that they respect that instead of telling me I can do it anyway. And that if I ask someone to give me a ride home, that they are willing to do that."— Lillian