Sixty to eighty per cent of cancer patients will experience some form of fatigue brought on by the disease or therapy.
That is according to Consultant Haematologist/Oncologist with the University Hospital of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica, Dr. Dwight Lowe. He referred to the statistic while speaking on the topic ‘Cancer Related Fatigue and its Management’ at the Cancer Support Services Annual Conference at the Hilton Hotel yesterday.
He told those gathered that cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is draining, unrelenting exhaustion that impedes a person’s ability to enjoy life and carry out daily activities. He said that it can be mild where a person feels lethargic; or severe where the exhaustion is debilitating. However, he said, most cases are mild. Moreover, he said that in each case, it is not relieved by sleep or rest.
Dr. Lowe explained that symptoms of CRF are varied and may progress with time – they include an inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, irritability, nervousness, impatience, sleepiness, persistent exhaustion and whole-body tiredness. With that in mind, he noted that females are more likely to be affected than males, as are elderly persons. The haematologist added that in addition to those two groups, persons who are inactive, have co-morbid illnesses; are in an advanced stage of the disease; or are utilising combined therapies, are also more likely to be affected by CRF.
He explained that while the majority of patients are likely to experience CRF, if managed properly they can reduce the impact it will have on them. If this is to be achieved, he said, they should inform their doctors of the symptoms early and by extension, the physicians should investigate and treat the reversible conditions which could lead to CRF. These conditions, he said, can include anaemia, nutritional deficiencies and depression.
Dr. Lowe, who is also a lecturer at UWI Mona, explained that to combat CRF, four main things must be addressed – energy conservation, nutrition, exercise and stress management. With that in mind, he said that it is important that cancer patients plan ahead and organise their work; schedule rest; pace themselves; practice proper body mechanics and limit isometric work.
With respect to nutrition, he explained that basic calorie needs must be met and persons must ensure that they get adequate fluids, protein and supplement vitamins and minerals. Moreover, he said that regular moderate exercise is essential, as it can bring about better sleeping patterns, ease pain and improve appetite.
With respect to stress management, the haematologist has suggested to cancer patients to engage in relaxation exercises or yoga before bed; avoid long afternoon naps, avoid caffeine and not to be afraid to utilise the services of a psychologist. (JRT)