ROCHESTER, Minn.—Many people who have been through cancer and its treatment have trouble with their recovery because of severe, debilitating fatigue that can last for months or even years. But even though a variety of treatments exist for cancer-related fatigue, few doctors are recommending them to patients, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study appearing in Supportive Care in Cancer.
The study found few of the available treatment strategies are being offered or prescribed by doctors. Regular physical activity, such as walking with a pedometer, has been shown to ease fatigue. Learning stress reduction and coping techniques can help patients alter daily habits and increase restfulness. However, only one-tenth of patients said their oncology teams instructed them to become more active or try other non-medication-related fatigue-reducing measures. More than 35 percent of patients had been offered sleep-enhancing medication, even though drugs have been shown to be the least effective approach.
“Fatigue is a factor that not only significantly diminishes quality of life but is also associated with reduced survival,” said study author Andrea Cheville, MD, a physiatrist with the Mayo Clinic Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “Our results suggest that cancer patients are not receiving appropriate treatment for a significant and widespread problem.”
Researchers queried 160 stage IV cancer patients, men and women, who had moderate to severe fatigue (greater than five on an 11-point scale). Participants with lung, breast, colon or prostate cancer were asked whether their oncology teams had mentioned any of the cancer-fatigue treatments recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, such as increasing exercise, seeking psychosocial and behavioral help, and medications. Patients were asked about the extent of the information they had received, whether physicians had provided specific counseling, instructions and recommendations or a prescription to address fatigue.