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Coping with cancer fatigue

A woman in a head scarf hugs her knees to her chest.

July 1, 2021—Exhausted. Worn out. Slow.

If that's how you feel on your cancer journey, you're not alone. Fatigue is a common side effect of treatments such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Other conditions that often affect people with cancer—such as anemia, pain, sleep troubles, depression and stress—also can cause or worsen fatigue. And in some cases, fatigue can be a symptom of the cancer itself.

What helps?

Some people have fatigue only during cancer treatment. For others, the fatigue lasts for months or years.

Whatever the case for you, it is important to tell your doctor about it, since fatigue can affect your daily life and make your treatments harder to manage.

If you have fatigue, your doctor, nurse or other specialists can suggest ways to manage it. They might start with suggestions like these from the NCI and the American Cancer Society:

Plan your day wisely. Whenever possible, plan to do your most important activities when you typically feel the most energy.

When you're tired, take short naps. Just 30 minutes can help you feel a lot better. But don't overdo it. Too much rest can make it harder to get the seven to eight hours of shut-eye you need at night.

Pace yourself during activities. Do things slowly so that you don't use all your energy at once.

Ask for help. Family and friends can pitch in with cleaning, shopping, running errands or other tasks. Use these willing helpers!

Get some exercise early in the day. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise is a great way to ease fatigue and improve your mood. Ask your cancer care team what types and amounts are right for you. Walking is often a good choice.

Make a mind-body move. Yoga has been shown to help people with cancer ease fatigue and sleep better.

See a nutrition expert. Cancer treatment can make it harder to get the nutrients you need to have energy. A dietitian or other member of your cancer care team can recommend good choices for you, possibly including vitamins and supplements. Getting this kind of help is especially important if you have taste issues, appetite loss, or nausea and vomiting.

Find ways to relax and recharge. Listening to music, reading a book or working on a hobby can reduce stress while helping to conserve your energy.

Talk to someone. A counselor can offer more advice, online or in person. And support group participants often share useful coping tips with each other.

Dealing with more than fatigue? Discover more tips for coping with the physical effects of cancer.

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