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Fatigue is an overwhelming lack of energy and motivation. People suffering from fatigue describe it as feeling overtired and as if daily activities are impossible to achieve. Fatigue can have causes that aren’t linked to an underlying disease, but people going through cancer treatment is especially susceptible to fatigue. That’s  why there is an area of rehabilitation medicine devoted to treating cancer fatigue.

ACRM is committed to helping people with disabilities, like those suffering from cancer. Which is why today’s blog explores an overlooked aspect of cancer treatment: fatigue. If you are performing rehabilitation in this or other areas of cancer treatment, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us today and consider joining ACRM.

What Is Cancer Fatigue?

Broadly speaking, cancer fatigue is fatigue that affects people during cancer treatment. Some causes of cancer fatigue include:

  • Cancer itself. Cancer causes changes to your body and increases your body’s need for energy. It also can alter hormone levels, which can contribute to fatigue.
  • Cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery all take a toll on your body. Fatigue can occur as your body works hard to repair the cells damaged from these types of treatment.
  • Emotions. A cancer diagnosis comes with anxiety, stress, and depression, all of which lead to fatigue.
  • Lack of exercise. Sickness means slowing down, and not maintaining your activity levels can cause fatigue.

Not everyone going through cancer treatment experiences fatigue, but it is a very common side-effect. Cancer fatigue can also occur sporadically, where you have good days and bad days. 

Strategies To Manage Cancer Fatigue

Physical Activity

Staying active is one of the best ways to fight fatigue. Regular exercise — when done safely — can help with energy levels as well as sleep quality.

You should move your body every day, whether by swimming, walking, or going to the gym.  

Eat Well

Being smart about what you put in your body is a good way for everyone to fight fatigue. Even if you don’t have much of an appetite because of cancer treatment, try eating small healthy snacks to keep up on nutrition. 

Form Good Sleep Habits

It seems pretty obvious that sleeping is a good way to feel less fatigued, but getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult when suffering from cancer fatigue. Good sleep habits are important in all areas of rehabilitation medicine. Here are a few tips for improving sleep quality and falling asleep more easily:

  • Turn off screens, like computers and TVs, at least one hour before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine after 12:00
  • Keep naps to less than an hour
  • Create a relaxing routine for yourself by making herbal tea, journaling, or reading a book before bed

Your body heals while sleeping, so getting a restful night’s sleep is important both to combat fatigue and cancer.

Rehabilitation Medicine

There’s no pill that can cure fatigue in those with cancer or anyone with low energy. But there are medications that can provide short-term relief. There are medications that can help with sleeping problems and there are some stimulant medications that can be used if fatigue gets debilitating. 

If fatigue is caused by anemia, then there are also medications that can stimulate red blood cell growth. If the exhaustion is caused by pain, then there are also medications for pain management that might also help decrease fatigue.

How Caregivers Can Help

Friends, family, and the larger care-giving team can help fight cancer fatigue. Caregivers can help you with meal preparation, house cleaning, yard work, or run errands for you. Caregivers should be careful to not push the patient to do more than they are able to, but should also make sure that they have agency over their activities

Setting a routine can also help to solidify the strategies mentioned above. Plan the day so there is room for rest breaks or short naps. 


The ACRM interdisciplinary Pain Rehabilitation Networking Group (PRNG) is a wonderful resource for medical networking, CE For nurses, CME for physicians, rehabilitation conferences, and, of course, rehabilitation medicine. Add to the discussion today and help change the lives of people living with disabilities.

Join ACRM today to contribute to the conversation and research surrounding pain management for those suffering from cancer fatigue.