Top Ten Causes of Cancer Fatigue and How Exercise Helps
post mastectomy exercise
Marian Barnick

Marian Barnick

Registered Kinesiologist and Human Movement Specialist



post mastectomy exercise

Top Ten Causes of Cancer Fatigue and How Exercise Helps

Cancer fatigue affects up to 90% of patients.  Cancer fatigue can be due to the disease itself or a result of treatment.


Even though most people think it’s just chemotherapy that causes fatigue, there are multiple other causes:

  •  radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • bone marrow transplant
  • hormone therapy
  • surgery

These treatments bring about extreme tiredness, exhaustion, and inability to complete your day to day activities.


Although many people have experienced fatigue at one time or another, there’s a specific diagnosis of “cancer related fatigue” that better defines the severity of the symptoms that are specific to cancer patients and survivors.


It’s important to note that cancer fatigue doesn’t just occur during treatment, but can be a long standing issue after treatment is completed and patients move into ‘survivorship’.


What Causes Cancer Related Fatigue

There are a number of factors that bring about cancer related fatigue occurs but the exact cause isn’t known.   What we do know is that cancer and cancer treatment cause fatigue both in the short term and long term.


Cancer treatments like chemo and radiation are targeted toward fast dividing cancer cells.  Because blood cells are also fast dividing they are affected by these treatments as well.   Blood cells transport oxygen throughout our body and to all of our cells.  Since oxygen gives our cells what they need to survive, a decrease in these cells, can lead to fatigue from the decrease in supply of oxygen.


Long term – cancer treatments can affect a number of systems in the body including the heart and lungs which can contribute to fatigue.


cancer fatigue


Top 10 Causes of Cancer Related Fatigue

  1. cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation
  2. inadequate nutrition
  3. pain
  4. poor sleep
  5. deconditioning
  6. medication side effects
  7. emotional distress
  8. depression
  9. anemia
  10. other illnesses/systemic issues


How to Evaluate Fatigue

Because fatigue is unique to each patient, evaluating fatigue is best done with a doctor and using questionnaires completed by the patient that outlines how they’re feeling and giving an outline of their symptoms.  The easiest method to evaluate fatigue is by  using a Numerical Rating Scale.


A score from 1 to 3 indicates mild fatigue, 4 to 6 is moderate, and a score from 7 to 10 indicates severe fatigue.  Based on the level of fatigue, further assessments, physical evaluation, and blood tests may be required to gain additional information.


How Post Mastectomy Exercise Helps Cancer  Fatigue

I know it seems absolutely insane to think that ‘burning’ energy will help you feel less fatigued, but it’s true – and proven with numerous research studies with cancer patients.


Now, It’s important to have your fatigue evaluated if your Numerical Rating Scale scores are at 4 or above including review of any contributing factors to make sure you’re cleared to exercise.


So let’s look at some of the causes of fatigue just on their own – without cancer treatment – just for a moment.


We know that exercise helps to increase the flow of oxygen through the body.   This gives us  more energy in each of our cells.


We also know that moderate levels of exercise helps the immune system.  When you’re fighting a disease and your system is deteriorated, you need this boost.


We know that when someone is deconditioned the best remedy is exercise.  Being out of shape by definition causes fatigue because it’s harder for your body to move, get around, and your muscles aren’t equipped to do what’s needed.


And we know that exercise has an amazing effect on our mood and brings about many psychological benefits.  You NEED this boost in endorphins.


So, have I convinced you?  Are you willing to give it a try?

If so, get your name on the waitlist so you’ll be informed when we offer the next Cancer Exercise Training.

Click This Link



It’s important to ensure you’re safe to exercise so make sure to get consent form your health professional before commencing exercise.


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