Are you experiencing extreme tiredness as a side effect of your breast cancer treatment? If so, you’re not alone.
Extreme tiredness, also known as fatigue, is one of the most common and distressing side effects of breast cancer treatment. Depending on its cause, fatigue can last from three to 12 months, or even longer after your surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy has finished.
Many women describe their experience of fatigue as an almost total lack of energy. They say it’s like feeling extremely tired all the time. Fatigue can make it difficult to do daily tasks and activities.
What causes fatigue?
We still don’t know exactly what causes fatigue after breast cancer treatment, but experts believe it could be a result of some of the following:
- a side effect of breast cancer treatment
- coping with pain
- anaemia (lack of red blood cells)
- stress, anxiety or depression
- travelling for treatment
- sleep difficulties
- a side effect of other medications that may be used during treatment, such as drugs to prevent nausea or reduce pain.
How can I manage my fatigue?
Even though your normal response to fatigue will be to rest, it’s important that you keep moving as much as possible. Research shows that spending long periods in bed or lying down can actually make fatigue worse.
Tips to help manage fatigue:
- Incorporate basic exercise, such as walking, into your day. Exercise, especially in the morning, has been shown to greatly assist in reducing fatigue.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Organise practical help at home, such as help with childcare, housework or making meals.
- Give your body time to recover after treatment. Try to work up to your usual level of daily activity rather than stepping straight back into old routines.
- Take time to rest throughout the day between activities, but limiting the length of naps so that you are still able to sleep at night. If you are facing sleepless nights during your breast cancer treatment, BCNA's Sleepless nights: breast cancer and sleep fact sheet provides more tips and strategies that may be helpful.
- Discuss how you feel with a support group or counsellor. You can find a support group near you on the BCNA website or join BCNA’s online network to connect with others affected by breast cancer.
You can also discuss your fatigue with your medical treatment team. They may be able to suggest approaches to help reduce or manage fatigue.
If you would like more information on fatigue after breast cancer treatment, please visit:
- BCNA's Exercise and breast cancer booklet covers the benefits of exercise, recommended exercise targets, practical tips to help you stay motivated, and includes an exercise diary where you can keep track of your achievements.
- Cancer Council Victoria’s Coping with cancer fatigue fact sheet, which provides practical tips to help you manage fatigue.
- Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre's Dealing with cancer-related fatigue fact sheet.