The most common side effect reported by patients being treated for cancer is fatigue.

Cancer-related fatigue not only causes tiredness and a lack of energy, it can also contribute to depression, confusion, irritability, and poor memory.

As a result, patients may choose to avoid day-to-day activities and, in some cases, they may even choose not to complete their cancer treatment.
Addressing cancer-related fatigue is a major issue for doctors, as they work to improve quality of life for cancer patients and ensure adherence to treatment.

Current guidelines suggest exercise, medication and psychological interventions including cognitive behavioural therapy, may reduce cancer-related fatigue.

In order to identify which of these treatments is best, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York compared data from 113 clinical trials, evaluating the effects of physical activity, medication, and psychological interventions, as well as a combination of physical activity and psychological interventions, on cancer-related fatigue.

When comparing different treatments, researchers discovered that exercise and psychological interventions were effective for reducing cancer-related fatigue and worked better than medications.

Based on their findings, the authors suggested doctors should focus more on physical activity and psychological therapies and less on recommending medications for patients with cancer-related fatigue.

Given the number of medications cancer patients are required to take during treatment and the various risks and side effects, the researchers indicated inclusion of another medication should be avoided.

Regular light exercise such as a gentle walk, some stretching, or a beginner’s yoga class can actually help to reduce fatigue and improve mood.

Try to get some fresh air and exercise every day even if you don’t really feel like it and gradually increase your time and distance but allow yourself time to rest afterwards.

Complementary therapies such as meditation, acupuncture, massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, music therapy or reiki can help to reduce stress and anxiety and may improve fatigue as well.

For more ways to manage fatigue check out our free resource Support, Care & Recovery available to order or download online.

Eating a healthy diet has also been shown to boost energy levels but knowing what you can and cannot have during treatment can be challenging.

Check out our food and nutrition resources as well as our high and low fibre recipes.

Our Bowel Care Nutritionist can help with practical advice on food choices during treatment and in recovery as well as specific nutritional advice, menu planning and cooking tips, such as how to modify favourite recipes.

If you’re simply having a bad day, and need someone to lend a sympathetic ear, you can contact our Bowel Care Nurses by calling Bowel Cancer Australia's helpline on 1800 555 494 during business hours.

If you feel your fatigue is linked to anxiety or depression, speak to your GP or specialist about developing a mental health plan.