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Navigating Post-Treatment Fatigue: A Common Challenge for Long-Term Breast Cancer Survivors


One of the most common yet under-discussed challenges that breast cancer survivors face is fatigue. This is a type of exhaustion that doesn’t disappear after a good night’s sleep and can persist for months, or even years, after treatment has ended. It can be mild or severe, come and go or be constant, but in all cases, it impacts the quality of life of survivors.

The Reality of Post-Cancer Fatigue

Research has indicated that up to one-third of breast cancer survivors experience fatigue years after treatment. Unlike the usual tiredness that healthy people experience, cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is more severe, more pervasive, and more likely to disrupt everyday activities. It’s a debilitating symptom that affects both the physical and mental aspects of a person’s life. Studies have suggested that CRF might be linked to treatment side effects or to the cancer itself.

Why Does Post-Cancer Fatigue Happen?

The exact cause of post-cancer fatigue remains unknown. However, there are several factors associated with its onset, including the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery often used in breast cancer treatments. Other factors could include ongoing medication, hormonal changes, or even emotional stress related to the diagnosis and treatment.

The Impact of Fatigue on Quality of Life

Persistent fatigue can greatly impact the quality of life for breast cancer survivors. It can limit physical capabilities, hinder social interactions, and compromise the ability to return to work or engage in daily activities. It is crucial for survivors, their families, and healthcare providers to recognize and address this debilitating side-effect of cancer treatment.

The Role of Breast Cancer Treatments in Causing Fatigue

Each type of breast cancer treatment can contribute to fatigue in different ways.

  • Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy drugs are designed to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, they can also affect healthy cells, leading to various side effects, including fatigue. The fatigue experienced during chemotherapy can be quite intense and usually peaks a few days after treatment. The cyclical nature of chemotherapy can mean that this pattern of fatigue repeats over several treatment cycles.
  • Radiation Therapy
    Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy. This is because the body uses more energy to repair the healthy cells affected by radiation. Unlike the cyclical nature of chemotherapy-induced fatigue, fatigue from radiation therapy tends to build up over time and can persist even after treatment has ended.
  • Surgery
    Surgery can cause immediate post-operative fatigue due to the stress and trauma of the procedure. However, it can also contribute to long-term fatigue. Post-surgery recovery and healing require energy, which can lead to a state of persistent tiredness.
  • Hormone Therapy
    Many breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive, and hormone therapies such as aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen are commonly used treatments. These medications can cause fatigue, amongst other side effects.

Managing Post-Cancer Fatigue

While the fatigue faced by long-term survivors of breast cancer can be severe and debilitating, there are strategies to manage it:

  • Maintain a balanced diet: Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can provide you with the energy you need. Avoiding processed foods and sugar can also keep your energy levels more stable.
  • Engage in regular exercise: It may sound counterintuitive, but regular physical activity can reduce fatigue. You don’t have to run a marathon – even a short, daily walk can help.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can contribute to fatigue. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day.
  • Prioritize sleep: Good sleep hygiene is critical. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, keep a consistent sleep schedule, and make your sleeping environment comfortable and conducive to rest.
  • Mind-body practices: Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture can also help manage fatigue. For example, a recent study has shown that yoga can help reduce fatigue among breast cancer survivors.
  • Seek professional help: If your fatigue is persistent and debilitating, it may be beneficial to talk to your doctor or a psychologist. They can help identify any underlying issues, such as depression or anxiety, which could be contributing to your fatigue. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in managing CRF.

When to Consult Your Doctor

If your fatigue is persistent, debilitating, or worsening, it’s important to consult your doctor. They can help you understand potential underlying causes and can suggest possible treatments or strategies for managing the fatigue.

For full article: Cancerconnect – Fatigue Common Among Long Term Survivors of Breast Cancer

Copyright breastcancerconnect 2023.

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