December has been named Cancer-Related Fatigue Awareness Month to recognize how physical, mental, and emotional fatigue affects the lives of the men, women, and children receiving treatment for cancer. Studies suggest that fatigue is experienced by 70 to 100 percent of cancer patients, with 30 to 50 percent saying their fatigue continued several months or even several years after stopping treatment.
The Difference Between Fatigue and Cancer-Related Fatigue
When you’re fatigued, you feel tired mentally, emotionally, and physically. Generally, it means you have less energy to do what you want to do that day, but it doesn’t last for a long time. Cancer-related fatigue is different. People who suffer from this condition sometimes describe their fatigue as draining—a feeling of being weak, listless, and exhausted. Some cancer patients feel too tired to eat or walk to another room. This type of fatigue is often unpredictable, and cancer patients say it can feel overwhelming. Here is a brief look at some of the symptoms of cancer-related fatigue:
- Your fatigue doesn’t improve or becomes severe
- You feel unusually tired after an activity or feel tired when you’re not active
- You don’t feel compelled to give attention to your personal hygiene or appearance
- Your legs and arms feel heavy and difficult to move
- You feel a sense of weakness and have no energy
- Your fatigue doesn’t improve after you get sleep or adequate rest
- You spend increased time in bed, sleep more, or have trouble sleeping
- You find it difficult to concentrate or focus, or you become confused
- You have difficulty remembering
- Your fatigue interferes with your work and daily life
- You feel depressed, irritated, or sad
Causes of Cancer-Related Fatigue
Many different factors can affect the level of fatigue a cancer patient experiences, including:
- Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and some biologic therapies. These treatments are well-known to cause fatigue as a side effect.
- Pain. When it hurts to move, you're less likely to have the energy you need to complete daily activities.
- Stress. Being diagnosed with cancer is undoubtedly a stressful experience. Patients worry about the cost of treatment, their chances of survival, and how their illness will affect loved ones. All of these factors contribute to emotional fatigue.
- Anemia. If cancer treatment destroys too many healthy red blood cells, a patient can develop fatigue due to anemia.
- Hormonal changes. When cancer treatment is targeted to the thyroid, adrenal glands, testes, or ovaries, the resulting change in hormonal levels can cause problems with fatigue.
- Diet. Cancer often affects the appetite and how the body uses food for energy. Someone who is having trouble eating or who can only eat certain foods may not being getting the nutrition they need to keep up with a regular routine.
- Difficulty sleeping. Pain, stress, and medication side effects can cause cancer patients to have trouble sleeping. A lack of sleep lowers overall energy levels.
- Lower levels of activity. Cancer treatment can cause heart trouble, lower oxygen levels, and cause trouble breathing, which make it difficult for patients to engage in any sort of physical activity. Over time, a more sedentary lifestyle adds to the fatigue a patient experiences.
Treating Cancer-Related Fatigue
Treatment for cancer-related fatigue depends on the patient's symptoms and the suspected cause. Your doctor may recommend medication to increase your appetite, help you sleep, or cope with feelings of depression. Gentle exercises such as yoga stretches and meeting with a support group to explore your feelings about treatment may be beneficial. Planning your daily activities to conserve your energy for high priority tasks might be recommended as well.
But sometimes doctors misdiagnose cancer. Not only can this compromise a patient’s ability to recover and survive, it may potentially cause complications associated with being administered the wrong medications and treatments. One of these complications is cancer-related fatigue—one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment. This condition can be exacerbated due to errors in medication and a misdiagnosis, which can be considered medical malpractice.
To win a malpractice claim, you must successfully establish that your doctor failed to act with the skill and care a reasonable professional would exercise under similar circumstances, and this negligence caused you harm. This is done by using expert testimony from medical specialists who have reviewed your treatment records.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to assisting Louisiana residents who’ve been the victims of medical malpractice get the compensation they deserve. To learn more, contact us for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.