Methylphenidate for cancer-related fatigue may help some patients, but not all

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Some patients may benefit from treatment with a psychostimulant to help with cancer-related fatigue, according to a study presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The study, conducted by researchers at Mayo Clinic and the North Central Cancer Treatment Group, involved 148 adult patients suffering from cancer-related fatigue. To be included in the study, patients had to report fatigue that was defined as a score of 4 or higher on an 11-point Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI) scale. Among the study group, 74 patients were assigned to receive long-acting methylphenidate and 74 were randomized to receive a placebo over a 4-week period.

The results showed that while methylphenidate did not improve fatigue for a broad group of patients, researchers did observe a benefit for those with stage III/IV cancer. Specifically, results indicated no significant difference between the methylphenidate and placebo groups for usual fatigue over the 4-week period. In addition, researchers reported that there was a trend for patients receiving methylphenidate to be more satisfied with their treatment compared to those on the placebo arm.

“Cancer-related fatigue can impact a patient's ability to tolerate therapy and their overall quality of life,” said Debra Barton, RN, PhD, associate professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic and an investigator for the study. “ While our study did not demonstrate improvement in fatigue for a broad patient population, our results do not rule out some benefit for patients with advanced cancer and point to the need for further researcher.”

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