Possible side effects of radiation therapy treatment include things like nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss, which usually catch a person’s attention first because they seem to be the worst.
While nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss, are side effects that can be difficult to tolerate, it is actually fatigue that affects people the most. Lack of energy and excessive tiredness seem to afflict all cancer patients, but those going through radiation therapy do experience it more frequently and often persistently.
Why Does Radiation Therapy Cause Fatigue?
Fatigue occurs during radiation therapy because the body is working hard to repair damage to healthy cells incurred during radiation treatment. The degree of fatigue generally varies depending on the location of radiation and amount of tissue irradiated.
Radiation therapy may not be the sole culprit of fatigue, as it can be a result of cancer itself or the mental stress associated with being a cancer patient. Furthermore, it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of fatigue, because there are many factors in cancer treatment that can all be responsible, and certain medications, such as those to prevent and treat nausea, can also be responsible for fatigue.
Symptoms of Fatigue
You may begin to feel the following symptoms of fatigue after the first radiation therapy treatment:
- Feeling tired or exhausted throughout the day
- Exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest.
- Reduced energy, motivation, and concentration
Fatigue can be extremely frustrating because you aren’t quite sleepy, but you just don’t have enough energy to do much, and you find it difficult to accomplish physical tasks.
Tips to Help Cope With Fatigue
There are many things you can do to help cope with cancer fatigue:
- Ask for help and accept it when it is offered. Don’t let pride get in the way of asking for help, being that friends and family are usually happy to help. Pushing yourself to accomplish everyday chores can leave you even more worn out.
- Get enough sleep, and if you have trouble sleeping at night, try to limit how often or how long you are napping during the day. Too much sleep during the day can result in more fatigue and restless sleep at night.
- Ensure you are properly hydrated since dehydration is a common cause of fatigue. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating enough fruits and vegetables. Avoid caffeinated drinks like an energy drink that act as a diuretic, the energy boost is short-lived. They are also loaded with sugar and caffeine, which may give you a boost, but may increase fatigue after you come down from the caffeine/sugar rush.
- Exercise when you can, as studies have shown that exercise can increase energy in people with cancer. Exercise does not have to be intense. It can be a short walk, swimming, or yoga.
Try some of the following to help save your energy:
- try not to rush, and plan ahead where possible
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to places, and put chairs around the house so you can stop and rest if necessary.
- Get handrails put up in your bathroom to hold on to when getting in or out of the bath or shower
- When dressing, sit down to put most of your clothes on, and try not to bend down too much.
- wear loose fitting clothes, and wear clothes with few buttons to do up
- where possible do household tasks sitting down
- Write a list of shopping and go when the supermarket is not busy or ask family and friends for help.
- Have plenty of nutritious snacks and drinks in stock that you can have whenever you feel like.
- Do things that you enjoy, in order to take your mind off things a bit and make you feel more relaxed
- buy readymade meals that you can quickly heat up rather than making food from scratch, and it might be easier to have lots of small meals, rather than the usual 3 meals a day
There are many things that you can do in your everyday life that help you use up less energy, and getting help from other people can help you feel less tired.
Some research into treating fatigue shows that it is important to balance exercise with resting and try to schedule in a short walk each day.