Cancer: Managing Fatigue

Three women in kitchen making a meal.

Extreme tiredness, called fatigue, is common when you have cancer. It can be caused by worry, lack of sleep, or low appetite. Fatigue can also be a sign of anemia. This is when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. You might need medical treatment for anemia. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the cells in your body, and low levels can make you tired. The tips below can help you feel better.

Saving your energy

  • Keep track of the times of day when you are most tired and plan around them. For instance, if you are more tired in the afternoon, try to get tasks done in the morning.

  • Decide which tasks are most important. Do those first.

  • Pass tasks along to others when you need to. Ask for help.

  • Accept help when it’s offered. Tell people what they can do to help. For instance, you may need someone to fix a meal, fold clothes, or put gas in your car.

  • Plan rest times. You may want to take a nap each day. Just sitting quietly for a few minutes can also make you feel more rested.

Taking care of yourself

  • Relax before you go to bed. Take a bath or read for a while.

  • Keep regular hours. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.

  • Eat well. Choose foods from all of the food groups each day.

  • Exercise. Take a brisk walk to help increase your energy.

  • Don't have caffeine or alcohol. Drink plenty of water or fruit juices instead.

Treating anemia

If you begin to feel more tired than normal, tell your healthcare provider. Fatigue could be a sign of anemia. This problem is common in people with cancer, especially during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. If your red blood cell count is too low, you may need a blood transfusion. In some cases, you may need medicine to increase the number of red blood cells your body makes.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

  • A dizzy feeling when you get up from lying or sitting

  • Paler skin than normal

  • Extreme tiredness that is not helped by sleep