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Fatigue is a common symptom of breast cancer and one of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment. In fact, some studies suggest that between
Breast cancer and breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormonal 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 in the first 6 months following their diagnosis when treatment is typically most intense. But fatigue can often persist for many months following treatment.
Fatigue is different from just being tired. People with fatigue report not feeling relief even after getting adequate rest and sleep. This type of extreme tiredness often has a profound effect on both 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 tough and may involve some trial and error and a commitment to a treatment plan. It’s important to work with your cancer care team to come up with a plan to tackle fatigue. 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 boost your mood and reduce fatigue over time.
In one systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise greatly improved cancer-related fatigue.
In another small study, women with breast cancer fatigue underwent a 4-week physical exercise rehabilitation program. Researchers found that their fatigue levels significantly decreased after the program ended.
There’s no need to run a marathon. A brisk walk, bicycle ride, or yoga are all ways you can benefit from physical activity.
Stress and anxiety can contribute to fatigue. Seeking support from your community is essential in managing your emotional well-being. Community support, also known as peer-to-peer support, allows you to exchange information with others who are going through similar experiences.
There are many options available, from in-person support groups to virtual forums. The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery is a good place to get connected.
Tackling a large task all at once can be daunting when you’re feeling fatigued. Instead, try to break up large tasks into smaller, more manageable parts, such as cleaning or cooking.
This can help you pace yourself better so your energy lasts throughout the day. Also, don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine-based approach that has been studied for thousands of years. Acupuncturists use tiny needles to stimulate nerve-rich areas of the skin surface. The nerves influence various functions of the body.
Research shows that acupuncture may help with several cancer-related symptoms, including fatigue, pain, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and nausea.
You should talk with your doctor first to make sure acupuncture is safe for you. You may also want to reach out to your insurance company to find out if acupuncture is covered. Without insurance, acupuncture could cost between $60 and $150 per session.
Make sure to only use a certified and licensed acupuncturist. You can ask your cancer care team for a referral or look 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 engage in a healthier response to stressful situations.
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 partake in yoga classes at a gym or studio. Make sure to look for gentle and 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 means that you aren’t able to eat enough food 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 about which treatments are available to manage the side effects of breast cancer therapy.
Eating well is important for everyone, but is certainly easier said than done.
There’s no specific diet recommended for people with breast cancer, as nutritional needs vary based on your individual case.
In general, you’ll want to aim for whole, nutrient-dense foods, such as:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- lean protein sources
It’s also important to stay hydrated and drink water, especially while undergoing treatment.
You may also consider meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian that specializes in creating meal plans for people with cancer.
Fatigue is common in people with breast cancer, and it can occur before, during, and after treatment. If fatigue is having a big impact on your mental and physical health, it’s time to get help.
Consider asking for help from friends or family, joining a support group, or asking your doctor about complementary and alternative therapies to manage fatigue.