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Fighting Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients.  Multiple factors such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment, poor nutrition, dehydration, stress, anemia, pain, and certain medications can contribute to fatigue.  It is often described as feeling very weak, tired, or having lack of energy.  Fatigue may cause one to have difficulty performing activities of daily living, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, or increased feelings of sadness.  It can become debilitating for patient in whom it persists well beyond the course active treatment.


 Tips for Managing Fatigue

  • Plan your day so that you aim to accomplish the most important activities first.
  • Listen to your body.  Schedule short naps or rest periods throughout the day and get quality sleep at night.
  • Keep active.  Taking a short walk or exercising for a short time daily can help you feel better.
  • Try relaxation exercises such as stretching, yoga, massage or aromatherapy
  • Accept help from family members and friends to shop and prepare meals for you, run errands or do housework.
  • Keep a daily log of when your fatigue levels intensify.  This can help your doctor or nurse identify factors that may be contributing to your fatigue such as sleep/wake disturbances and other side effects.
  • If lack of sleep is contributing factor, avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and limit your naps to no more than 30 minutes at one time to provide more restful sleep.

Good nutrition is also very important in the management of fatigue.  A well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods can help provide the energy that the body needs to stay strong and fuel daily activities.


Nutritional Suggestions for Fatigue

  • Choose easy to prepare foods that are high in protein and calories such as nuts, lean meats, beans, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, soups, muffins, bagels, dried fruit, granola bars, cereal bars, shakes, and smoothies.  Add extra olive oil, butter, gravy, sauce or cheese to entrees for additional calories as needed.
  • Eat small frequent meals (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 large meals in order to provide the body with a consistent source of energy throughout the day.
  • Be sure to stay hydrated.  Drink a minimum of 8-10 8 oz. glasses of fluid per day.
  • Try nutritional supplements if recommended by your physician and healthcare team

 **Note: Communicate with your healthcare team about what you are experiencing.  Contact your doctor or nurse if you are not able to do your normal everyday activities, or if you still experience tiredness after resting or sleeping, or are feeling sad or depressed [i][ii].


[i] “Fatigue (PDQ).” National Cancer Institute. National Cancer Institute, n.d. Web. Accessed August 7, 2012. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/fatigue/Patient
[ii] Martin, Kathryn, et al. “When your cancer treatment makes you tired.” UpToDate Inc. Wolters Kluwer Health, June 2012. W eb.http://www.uptodate.com/contents/when-your-cancer-treatment-makes-you-tired-the-basics
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.


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