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Fatigue is one of the most common and toughest side effects of cancer treatment. It is more than just being tired. Fatigue is feeling physically, emotionally or mentally exhausted. You may have trouble finding the energy for even the simplest tasks, and this feeling does not go away with rest. It is important to tell your health care team if your energy is low. Fatigue usually lessens over time, but it is sometimes caused by anemia or blood loss that can be treated with medication. Sometimes fatigue is confused with depression, a psychological condition treatable with counseling or medication.

Fatigue is a side effect that is cumulative. This means you may only experience a small amount of fatigue after your first treatment but the amount of fatigue will likely grow as your treatment continues. Fatigue does improve after treatment has finished but it does take some time to feel like you did before your treatment. There are strategies your doctor or nurse can discuss with you to help manage fatigue. It is difficult to predict how fatigued you will feel because every side effect is different for each person. Also, some therapies cause more fatigue than others. In most cases, you will gradually begin to feel less fatigued when your treatment ends.

Prepare to talk with your doctor by keeping track of your fatigue. Write down when you feel fatigue. Note the time of day, how tired you feel on a scale of 0-10 (with 10 being the most tired), how long the feeling lasts and anything you do that makes it better or worse. This information will help your doctor understand what you are going through. Be sure to bring up fatigue when you talk with your doctor or nurse, even if they do not ask about it.

Coping with Fatigue

  • Organize your activities around your best times of the day where you have the most energy
  • Eat healthy foods, avoiding greasy and fried foods
  • Take time to rest as this is an important part of your recovery. Do not feel guilty during rest days
  • ​Take on less. Cut back on responsibilities, volunteer commitments and even favorite hobbies
  • ​Notify your healthcare team if onset of fatigue is new and ask them for advice in regards to management
  • Set realistic goals for what you want to accomplish for the day and ask others to help you
  • Identify the time of day when you have the most energy and use this time for activities that are important to you, like getting work done or paying attention to your children
  • Be as physically active as you can tolerate, starting slowly and building up to 150 minutes of activity spread over at least 3 day a week
  • Aim to sleep at least eight hours each night. Wake up and go to bed at the same times each day
  • Take time to rest or take a short nap (no longer than 45 minutes) during the day
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water or fluid a day, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor, and avoid alcohol
  • Try meditation, guided imagery, prayer or other strategies to help you relax and decrease stress