Fatigue and breast cancer: 7 tips for relief


Fatigue is a common symptom of breast cancer and one of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment. Indeed, some studies suggest that between 62 and 85 percent of people undergoing cancer treatment report suffering from cancer-related fatigue.

Breast cancer and breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapies, can affect hormone levels. This can lead to inflammation throughout the body as well as other side effects, all of which can contribute to fatigue.

Studies show that women with breast cancer are most affected by fatigue during the first 6 months after their diagnosis, when treatment is usually the most intense. But fatigue can often persist for several months after treatment.

Fatigue is different from just being tired. Fatigue sufferers report feeling no relief even after getting enough rest and sleep. This type of extreme fatigue often has a profound effect on physical and emotional health.

Fatigue is often characterized by:

  • lack of energy
  • need to sleep more
  • lack of desire or inability to perform normal daily activities
  • feeling tired even after sleeping
  • trouble thinking or concentrating
  • difficulty finding words

Treating fatigue can be difficult and may involve trial and error and commitment to a treatment plan. It is important to work with your cancer care team to develop a fatigue plan. The following tips are a good start.

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you’re already exhausted. But physical activity is one of the best ways to improve your mood and reduce fatigue over time.

the American Cancer Society recommends that people who have been diagnosed with cancer start slowly and increase their activity over time. The goal is to add exercise until you reach at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week.

In a systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise significantly improved cancer-related fatigue.

In another small study, women with fatigue from breast cancer completed a 4-week exercise rehabilitation program. The researchers found that their level of fatigue decreased significantly after the end of the program.

You don’t have to run a marathon. A brisk walk, bike ride, or yoga are all ways to benefit from physical activity.

Stress and anxiety can contribute to fatigue. Seeking the support of your community is key to managing your emotional well-being. Community support, also known as peer support, allows you to exchange information with others who are going through similar experiences.

Many options are available, from in-person support groups to virtual forums. The American Cancer Society Road to recovery is a good place to connect.

Tackling an important task all at once can be daunting when you’re feeling tired. Instead, try breaking big tasks down into smaller, more manageable parts, like cleaning or cooking.

This can help you pace yourself better so that your energy lasts throughout the day. Also, don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it.

Acupuncture is an ancient approach based on Chinese medicine that has been studied for thousands of years. Acupuncturists use tiny needles to stimulate nerve-rich areas on the surface of the skin. Nerves influence various body functions.

Research shows that acupuncture can help relieve several cancer-related symptoms, including fatigue, pain, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and nausea.

You should speak with your doctor first to make sure acupuncture is safe for you. You can also contact your insurance company to find out if acupuncture is covered. Without insurance, acupuncture could cost between $60 and $150 per session.

Be sure to only use a certified and licensed acupuncturist. You can ask your cancer care team for a referral or search online for certified acupuncturists in your area.

Mindfulness techniques — including yoga and meditation — are practices that help direct your attention to the present moment. These approaches can help you control your emotions, become less reactive, and respond healthier to stressful situations.

In one systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers found that people with breast cancer who participated in mindfulness-based stress-reduction interventions reported reductions in fatigue. They also experienced short-term reductions in depression and stress.

You can do a guided meditation using an app such as Insight Timer, or can you try to sit quietly and clear your mind on your own.

You can participate in yoga classes at a gym or studio. Be sure to seek out gentle, restorative yoga classes rather than more advanced vinyasa practices. You can also find many yoga videos online or through various apps.

Other side effects of breast cancer treatment can also contribute to your fatigue. Nausea and vomiting, for example, usually mean you can’t eat enough to keep your energy up.

Anemia, or a low red blood cell count, can be caused by chemotherapy and lead to fatigue. Ask your doctor what treatments are available to manage the side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Eating well is important for everyone, but it’s certainly easier said than done.

There is no specific diet recommended for people with breast cancer, as nutritional needs vary depending on your individual case.

In general, you’ll want to aim for whole, nutrient-dense foods, such as:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • lean protein sources

It is also important to stay hydrated and drink water, especially during treatment.

You may also consider meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian who specializes in creating meal plans for people with cancer.

Fatigue is common in people with breast cancer and can occur before, during and after treatment. If fatigue is having a big impact on your mental and physical health, it’s time to seek help.

Consider asking friends or family for help, joining a support group, or asking your doctor about complementary and alternative therapies to manage fatigue.


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