October 01, 2004
Severe, debilitating fatigue is common in cancer patients. For many,it is the symptom that interferes most with normal routines. Virtuallyevery modality used to treat cancer may cause fatigue, as can complicationsof the disease such as sleep disturbances, infections, malnutrition,hypothyroidism, and anemia. There is a significant overlap betweendepression and fatigue in many patients. Given the high prevalenceof cancer-related fatigue, frequent assessment of patients is essential.The evaluation should include an attempt to identify reversiblecauses of fatigue, and screening for depression. However, many cancerpatients suffer from fatigue even in the absence of any identifiable,reversible cause. For these patients, consideration can be given to suitableexercise programs, educational support and counseling, and energyconservation strategies. A trial of a stimulant medication is alsoreasonable. Given the heterogeneity of patients, individualized approachesare needed. For anemic patients undergoing chemotherapy,erythropoietic agents can increase hemoglobin levels. The impact ofthese drugs on fatigue and quality of life is uncertain. Recent reports ofincreased mortality and thrombotic events in cancer patients treatedwith epoetin require further investigation.