Findings released from a national survey
underscore what cancer patients already know: The fatigue following
chemotherapy treatment has a sweeping impact on patients
physical and emotional health, as well as their economic well-being.
Three-quarters (76%) of the 379 cancer patients surveyed consistently
experienced fatigue, and nearly 9 (89%) out of 10 of those who
experienced fatigue said that cancer fatigue, commonly caused by
chemotherapy-induced anemia, interferes with their normal daily life.
The survey included patients who had been treated for cancers of the
breast, prostate, lung, or skin, as well as those with leukemia or
lymphoma. The following are highlights of the survey results from the
301 patients who experienced fatigue:
Among fatigued patients, 60% reported that fatigue affects their
lives more than any other side effect of cancer, including nausea
(22%), pain (6%), and depression (10%).
Fatigue was the longest-lasting side effect of cancer treatment.
Close to half of patients (45%) experienced fatigue for at least 1
week after chemotherapy and 33% had fatigue that lasted 2 weeks or
more after chemotherapy.
Among fatigued patients, 89% said that fatigue changed the way that
they go about their normal daily life, and a majority said the
condition causes distress and interferes with daily activities.
Patients said that fatigue affects their ability to earn a living:
Among employed patients, 71% missed one or more days of work per
month and 31% missed nearly an entire week. Similarly, their
caregivers took off about the same number of days to help care for
them. Another 28% said fatigue forced them to stop working
altogether. Three-fourths (75%) of patients had to change their work
habits, such as cutting hours at work or taking on less responsibility.
The impact of fatigue on family/social life was equally dramatic, as
59% of respondents said that they had difficulty socializing with
family or friends; 52% said that they couldnt meet the needs of
their family or loved ones; 37% cited problems maintaining
interpersonal relationships; 30% had difficulty being intimate with
their partner; and 25% felt distant from family members and friends.
Fatigue also interferes with an individuals ability to perform
normal everyday tasks. A majority of respondents said that cancer
fatigue interfered with daily activities, such as cleaning the house
(69%), running errands (56%), climbing stairs (56%), and walking
Patients are largely misinformed about cancer fatigue, and physicians
do not always provide them with the information they need. Among the
fatigued patients, 61% assumed that the condition would disappear on
its own; 45% believed that there was nothing their physician could do
to treat cancer-related fatigue; and 25% said that their physicians
did not explain the causes and treatments of the condition.
One-third (32%) of fatigued patients said that they had been
diagnosed with anemia, a common cause of fatigue. Despite this, only
9% of fatigued patients were treated with prescription drugs or
transfusions to correct the condition.
Common Causes of Fatigue
The survey results confirm that the debilitating fatigue during
cancer treatment is seriously underrecognized and undertreated,
said Gregory A. Curt, MD, of the National Cancer Institute and a
member of the Fatigue Coalition. The physical, emotional and
economic stress of fatigue on cancer patients has a serious impact on
their ability to get back to the business of living.
The most common cause of cancer-related fatigue is anemia.
The real message of the survey findings is that many patients
with fatigue are suffering alone when treatment options are
available. Clearly, based on these results, fatigue may jeopardize
patients careers and their ability to take care of themselves
and their families. The treatment community and patients need to
recognize this fact and actively seek and request more treatment
options, said Susan L. Scherr, a cancer survivor who is a
member of the Fatigue Coalition and serves as director of community
and strategic alliances for the National Coalition for Cancer
Survivorship (NCCS), a national advocacy group for cancer patients.
Now, when our patients describe the way fatigue is impacting
their ability to go about their daily lives, we need to evaluate each
individuals condition and treat fatigue aggressively when
needed, added Dr. Curt.