How Can You Fight Cancer Fatigue?

It may be tempting to reach for that can of Red Bull to help you cope with the fatigue related to cancer, but it is probably not the best solution. Energy drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine—you may get a small burst of energy from these ingredients, but it will not sustain you through the day.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms experienced by people with cancer. It can also be one of the most distressing as it interferes with every aspect of daily life. However, while it might feel like nothing can relieve your cancer-related fatigue, there actually are some things you can do to boost your energy.

Older woman looking fatigued
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

To effectively treat cancer-related fatigue, the first step is finding out what is causing it. There are many different reasons people experience fatigue as a result of cancer, from anemia to side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Your healthcare provider can help zero in on the cause of your fatigue, which will help narrow down treatment options. 

Managing Fatigue

Once your healthcare provider has done what she can to medically manage fatigue by treating underlying conditions, there are several things you can do to help fight fatigue. These include:

  • Exercise. While it may seem too daunting to exercise when you feel so drained of energy, increasing physical activity can actually lessen fatigue. Exercise can also improve your sleep, giving you higher-quality rest during the evening.
  • Eat right. Many people with cancer struggle to eat a well-balanced diet due to decreased appetite or nausea resulting from treatments. Working with a nutritionist may help you come up with a plan to ensure you are consuming enough vitamins, minerals, fluids, protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables to optimize your energy level.
  • Treat depression and anxiety. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be emotionally challenging and lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions can both cause fatigue as well as disrupt your sleep, and treating them can help with both.
  • Be realistic. It is important to recalibrate your expectations of yourself during cancer treatment. Keep in mind that you may need more energy to do less than you are used to, and plan for that by prioritizing your activities and scheduling them for your most energetic times of the day. In addition, let your friends and loved ones pitch in to help you complete daily chores and household maintenance. 
  • Power nap. Even though cancer-related fatigue tends to persist despite adequate sleep, a daily power nap can do wonders for restoring the sense that you are well-rested. Be sure to keep your power naps short—no longer than an hour—or you will feel groggy afterward. 

If you’ve tried all the above techniques, and nothing seems to help, be sure to follow up with another discussion with your practitioner. You and your healthcare provider can explore other strategies and possibly medications that may help.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bower JE. Cancer-related fatigue—mechanisms, risk factors, and treatments. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2014;11(10):597-609. doi:10.1038/nrclinonc.2014.127

  2. Inglis JE, Lin PJ, Kerns SL, et al. Nutritional interventions for treating cancer-related fatigue: a qualitative review. Nutr Cancer. 2019;71(1):21-40. doi:10.1080/01635581.2018.1513046

By Lisa Fayed
Lisa Fayed is a freelance medical writer, cancer educator and patient advocate.