Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment. People usually describe fatigue as feeling tired, weak or exhausted. But it’s a different kind of tiredness – one that doesn’t go away after a good rest.  

Fatigue can be caused by the physical effects of treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but also the emotional impact of dealing with diagnosis and treatment, or coping with pain.

It is important not to push yourself. Some people worry that others will expect them to bounce back once treatment is over and that they shouldn’t complain about being tired. However, fatigue can be a significant issue for many people, and it is important that you and people close to you acknowledge it and adjust your activities accordingly.

How long will fatigue last?

It is important to remember that fatigue will get better ­– with time and rest, your energy levels will gradually return to normal.

For some people, fatigue is mild and temporary. For others, it lasts months after treatment and makes going about daily activities impossible. Some people find they can only do one or two things before feeling exhausted, when they would usually have been able to do many more tasks in a day. This can be very frustrating.

If you’re feeling fatigued, talk with your doctor about what factors might be causing it and what you can do to improve your symptoms.

Tips to help with fatigue

You may not be able to avoid fatigue completely, but there are things you can do to make the most of the energy you do have. It is important that you are guided by what your body tells you, and that you slowly build any new activities into your days.

  • Exercise
    Usually, if you feel tired, you rest. But although you might not expect it, regular exercise can help you to feel less tired. Research shows that exercise is an effective way to reduce fatigue after cancer treatment. Try going for a short walk, or find a gentle exercise class like yoga or tai chi – this will help to gradually restore your energy without exhausting you. Some people find that more strenuous exercise is also helpful. 
  • Get enough sleep, but not too much
    Try listening to gentle music or a guided relaxation CD as you’re falling asleep – this can help you to rest more deeply. You can find these sorts of CDs at your local library. If you feel tired during the day, it’s OK to take short naps (no longer than an hour), but if you rest for too long during the day, you might not sleep well at night
  • Ask for help
    Don’t think you have to do everything yourself. See if friends and family can help with things like shopping, cleaning, gardening, washing the car or running errands.
  • Don’t overdo it
    Save your energy for the things you enjoy by taking breaks when you need to, and rest before you get too tired.
  • Make lists
    Lists can be a great way of helping you remember what needs doing and can stop you worrying.
  • Take the load off
    You can be resting even while you’re doing things. Sit down for tasks, when you can.  If you are caring for have young children, try to play with them while you can sit or lie down – for example, using board games or puzzles, or drawing.
  • Plan ahead
    Don’t do too much in one day or at times of the day when you know you’ll feel tired. Try not to rush, and leave plenty of time to get to where you need to go. Keep track of the times of day that you feel best and schedule activities for these times.
  • Eat well
    Maintain your energy by eating a varied and healthy diet.