Fatigue after cancer treatment doesn't last

May 3, 2012

Fatigue following adjuvant therapy for breast cancer doesn't affect all patients, and although debilitating, eventually resolves for most.

Although most women with early stage breast cancer don’t experience post-treatment fatigue, those who do often find it fades with time.

Treatment-related fatigue, albeit transient, is debilitating and places additional demands on the healthcare system.

Only about 6% of women treated for early stage breast cancer suffer from fatigue 1 year later, according to results of a small Australian study. 

The study of 218 women with early stage breast cancer who were treated with adjuvant radiation, chemotherapy, or both, was published online April 16 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers found that although 24% of the women had cancer-related fatigue (CRF) at the end of treatment, 11% suffered with the problem at the 6-month mark, and only 6% had the problem at the end of 1 year, suggesting that the problem fades with time.

The women were interviewed and completed a questionnaire every 3 months for 1 year after treatment ended and also at the 5-year mark. The questionnaire was designed to delineate between physical and psychosocial causes of fatigue. Women with persistent fatigue at 6 months were investigated further to rule out alternative causes, such as depression and thyroid problems.

Larger tumor size was the only treatment-related predictor of persistent CRF identified. Although the authors found the natural history of CRF to be generally favorable, the problem was associated with significant disability, increased healthcare usage, and unmet healthcare needs.

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