Fatigue in Cancer

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Fatigue is commonly experienced in cancer as a result of the challenges of cancer and particularly of cancer treatments. Fatigue may feel like persistent physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It interferes with daily life, and doesn't improve with rest. Fatigue may continue lon


People with cancer commonly experience fatigue as a result of the challenges of cancer and particularly of cancer treatments. This type of fatigue “may feel like persistent physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Cancer-related fatigue is different than feeling tired after not getting enough rest. It interferes with daily life. It does not match the person’s level of activity. It does not improve with rest.” Fatigue may continue long after cancer treatment ends.1

Managing Fatigue

Several complementary approaches can be helpful for fatigue. The Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) clinical practice guidelines list integrative therapies with evidence for effectiveness in fatigue:4

SIO cautions that acetyl-L-carnitine (CAM-Cancer) and guarana (About Herbs) should not be recommended for improving fatigue during treatment.

A diet designed to address fatigue in breast cancer survivors has shown positive results in a small pilot study.5

Medical cannabis may also help relieve fatigue. A study involving responses from more than 1200 cancer patients in Israel found that the majority of patients reported relief from symptoms including fatigue.6

An exercise counseling session during which symptoms were reviewed and current functional status, as well as current and previous exercise habits and capabilities were assessed. Individualized exercise recommendations were developed, including short- and long-term exercise goals and plans for follow-up sessions. At a follow-up session, improvements were noted in fatigue and in global health, mental health, and physical health scores.7 A 2019 study found that scheduling exercise to accommodate cyclical variations in fatigue due to chemotherapy may increase adherence to supervised exercise.8

Some studies have found that massage may help to reduce fatigue.

In addition to complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems


  1. Cancer.Net. Fatigue. American Society of Clinical Oncology. March 2017. Viewed February 8, 2018.
  2. Lapedis M, Adler SR et al. Qualitative analyses from a prospective clinical study of a whole systems Ayurvedic intervention for breast cancer survivorship. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014 May; 20(5):A75.
  3. Markham MJ. 8 Ways to Cope With Cancer-Related Fatigue. American Society of Clinical Oncology. January 10, 2017. Viewed February 13, 2018.
  4. Deng GE, Frenkel M et al. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: complementary therapies and botanicals. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. 2009 Summer;7(3):85-120; Deng GE, Rausch SM et al. Complementary therapies and integrative medicine in lung cancer: diagnosis and management of lung cancer, 3rd ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2013 May;143(5 Suppl):e420S-e436S; Greenlee H, DuPont-Reyes MJ et al. Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017 May 6;67(3):194-232; Meneses-Echávez JF, González-Jiménez E, Ramírez-Vélez R. Effects of supervised exercise on cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cancer. 2015 Feb 21;15:77.
  5. University of Michigan Health Lab: Diet Could Help Breast Cancer Survivors Beat Fatigue;Zick SM, Colacino J et al. Fatigue reduction diet in breast cancer survivors: a pilot randomized clinical trial. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2017 Jan;161(2):299-310.
  6. Bar-Lev Schleider L, Mechoulam R et al. Prospective analysis of safety and efficacy of medical cannabis in large unselected population of patients with cancer. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2018 Mar;49:37-43.
  7. Lopez G, Eddy C et al. Physical therapist-led exercise assessment and counseling in integrative cancer care: effects on patient self-reported symptoms and quality of life. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2019 Jan-Dec;18:1534735419832360.
  8. Kirkham AA, Bland KA et al. "Chemotherapy-periodized" exercise to accommodate for cyclical variation in fatigue. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise. 2019 Sep 4.
  9. Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010; Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer: A Five-Step Integrative Plan to Reduce the Risk of Recurrence and Build Lifelong Health. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013.
  10. Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
  11. McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2016.


This article has been taken from Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies.