Cancer patients, including breast cancer patients, have to deal with a wide variety of side effects related to their breast cancer treatments. While many of us might first think about side effects like impaired memory, osteoporosis development, infertility, and more, the most common side effect associated with cancer treatment is cancer-related fatigue. According to some reports, 60-93% of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and 80-96% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy experience cancer-related fatigue. It has been reported that as many as 99% of breast cancer patients experience cancer-related fatigue. Unlike fatigue experienced by healthy individuals, breast cancer-related fatigue is more severe, more distressing, and is not well relieved by simply resting.
Despite the high rate of cancer-related fatigue experienced by breast cancer patients, it remains somewhat unclear what factors are associated with the severity of cancer-related fatigue and what can be done by breast cancer patients to alleviate cancer-related fatigue. A new breast cancer study ( free to download ) explored factors possibly linked to cancer-related fatigue in 315 Chinese breast cancer patients. The breast cancer patients in this study had either completed endocrine therapy (17%) or were undergoing endocrine therapy (83%) and were asked to complete 3 questionnaires on cancer-related fatigue, physical activity levels, and dietary habits. Analysis of the relationships between these questionnaires as well as some clinical and treatment characteristics revealed that
Among the 315 breast cancer patients, 60% (189 patients) experienced cancer-related fatigue as either mild (44.8%), moderate (9.8%) or severe (5.4%). Of these 189 patients, nearly 92% experienced a decrease in cancer-related fatigue over time.
Factors linked to cancer related-fatigue included: greater body mass index, being premenopausal, more advanced stage of breast cancer, longer duration of endocrine therapy, physical activity, and diet. Age, type of endocrine therapy drug, alcohol intake, and smoking were not linked to breast cancer-related fatigue.
The level of physical activity was linked to the relief of cancer-related fatigue - the majority of breast cancer patients who exercised between 10 and 20 metabolic hours per week had only mild cancer-related fatigue. In contrast, breast cancer patients who exercised less than 3.3 metabolic hours per week experienced the most severe cancer-related fatigue.
Breast cancer patients who most closely met the Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents were more likely to experience only mild or moderate cancer-related fatigue, while breast cancer patients with poor dietary habits were more likely to experience more severe cancer-related fatigue.
Cancer-related fatigue can have a major impact on the quality of life of breast cancer patients, such that interferes with a breast cancer patients normal daily activities and even to the point of being debilitating. While some of the factors shown in this study to be linked to more severe cancer-related fatigue are beyond an person's control (menopausal status and stage of cancer development), several of the other factors are of the type individuals can actively control. According to this breast cancer study, developing healthy eating habits, getting adequate amounts of exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight were all linked to milder forms of cancer-related fatigue. So while breast cancer patients might not be able to fully reduce the cancer-related fatigue that they are experiencing, there are some changes they can make in their lifestyle that can fight back against breast cancer-related fatigue.