Patients frequently complain about fatigue for months after completing treatment for breast cancer. How long is considered normal for patients to still experience fatigue, and do they need additional follow-up?

Most breast cancer patients require radiation therapy as a part of their multidisciplinary treatment. It may take several months after treatment for their energy levels to return to normal, and women often report it is a year or longer before they feel like themselves again. Aromatase inhibitors and hormonal therapies can also add to fatigue symptoms, as can the entire treatment regimen, which may cause stress and alter sleep patterns.

Patients should discuss all symptoms they experience with their physician, including fatigue. Lab tests should be run to rule out a medical reason for the symptoms. Nurses can offer breast cancer patients the following suggestions for alleviating fatigue at the very beginning of their treatment:

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  • Stay active without overdoing it
  • Conserve energy, especially around treatment days
  • Prioritize your needs to avoid overexerting yourself
  • Take a 30-minute nap if you need to
  • Take note if your sleep at night is disturbed; try to identify what may be causing the changes and report it to your health care provider
  • Try light exercise such as taking a walk or stretching to help regain energy
  • If someone asks what they can do to help you, give them something to do to minimize your workload! 

— Rosemarie A. Tucci, RN, MSN