Fatigue and Mesothelioma

Most mesothelioma patients experience fatigue, especially during chemotherapy. Cancer-related fatigue is a feeling of weakness or exhaustion that does not go away after resting. Doctors can treat some causes of fatigue, and good lifestyle habits will improve a patient’s energy level.

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Fatigue is when you do not have enough energy to do what you need or want to do. Fatigue might mean being physically tired, or it might mean being too stressed out or depressed to function. People often describe fatigue as feeling weak, drained, burned out or exhausted.

Normal fatigue clears up after rest and relaxation, but the fatigue patients with mesothelioma experience is more complex and unpredictable.

Fatigue is very common in cancer patients. An American Cancer Society study found more than 90 percent of mesothelioma patients experience some level of fatigue, with most cases being minor or moderate.

Cancer-related fatigue affects everyone differently, and the same patient can experience it differently on different days. A patient may feel energetic one day but not have enough energy to get out of bed the next, for no obvious reason.

Fatigue and Mesothelioma Facts:
  • Very common cancer symptom and treatment side effect
  • May be eased by palliative treatment for other cancer symptoms
  • Proper sleep and nutrition habits are essential to minimizing fatigue
  • Staying as active as possible keeps energy levels up

For many patients, fatigue is more distressing and frustrating than other mesothelioma symptoms. Fatigue makes it hard for people to participate in the world around them. Cancer-related fatigue is difficult to understand and treat, because many different factors can contribute to it.

Mesothelioma treatment and the cancer itself can cause fatigue. Fatigue may also be an indirect result of how a mesothelioma diagnosis affects a patient’s lifestyle and state of mind.

Managing cancer-related fatigue is challenging, but there are proactive steps patients and caregivers can take to minimize its impact on quality of life.

Mesothelioma patients must save their limited energy for the activities that matter most to them and ask for help with daily chores when they need it. Caregivers must also ensure mesothelioma patients do not overexert themselves.

Patients and caregivers should inform their doctors about problems caused by fatigue. A patient’s medical team may be able to identify a specific cause and prescribe an effective treatment for it.

Fatigue Caused by Mesothelioma Symptoms

Mesothelioma tumors can cause fatigue by using up energy and protein as they grow. This leaves fewer resources available for the rest of the patient’s body. Cancer cells can also affect hormone levels in the body and release toxins that affect how healthy cells work.

Fatigue often goes hand in hand with the breathing difficulty most pleural mesothelioma patients experience. As tumors constrict and invade the lungs, patients have to work harder just to get enough oxygen to live.

Another common mesothelioma symptom is chest or abdominal pain, which can make it difficult for patients to rest. Palliative treatment for cancer pain is an important part of minimizing fatigue.

Anxiety or depression caused by a mesothelioma diagnosis can make patients mentally and emotionally fatigued. Reaching out to others for support and finding ways to reduce stress will help.

Fatigue Caused by Mesothelioma Treatment

Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy. It typically affects patients the most during the few days after each dose of drugs.

Radiation therapy can cause cumulative fatigue, which means fatigue increases little by little as the radiation treatments go on.

These cancer treatments cause fatigue because they kill cancer cells along with healthy cells. The body then has to use energy to heal tissues and clean up the dead cells.

Treatments may also reduce the number of red blood cells the patient has. Red blood cells deliver oxygen and nutrients to the other cells of the body. Not having enough red blood cells leads to a condition called anemia, which contributes to fatigue.

After treatments are finished, it may take months for fatigue to go away. Some patients experience fatigue for years after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Certain medications can also have the side effect of making patients feel tired. Some medications, such as steroids to help patients breathe, may make it hard to get enough sleep. If medications are causing fatigue, doctors may be able to adjust the prescription.

Fatigue Caused by Lack of Sleep

Cancer symptoms and treatment side effects can make it difficult for mesothelioma patients to sleep. After seeing what their medical team can do, patients and caregivers should adopt daily habits that promote good sleep.

Patients should follow a regular schedule of winding down in the evening and sleeping for eight hours every night. In the hours before going to bed, patients should refrain from exercising, looking at bright screens or consuming caffeine or nicotine.

It is better to take a few short rests throughout the day than one big nap, because a long nap in the middle of the day can upset a patient’s sleep schedule.

Fatigue Caused by Poor Nutrition

A lack of energy could be caused by simply not eating enough calories or protein. Good nutrition for mesothelioma patients means eating a balanced diet, but this should not be the sort of diet people use to lose weight.

If a patient has trouble eating because of treatment side effects, they should focus on rich foods that are easy to eat. This is a good time to add extra butter, cream cheese or olive oil to every meal. Blending ice cream into protein shakes helps as well.

When a patient has fatigue, alcohol and drug abuse can make it worse. Tobacco products suppress the appetite, which is one of many reasons for mesothelioma patients to avoid cigarette smoke.

Fatigue Caused by Inactivity

If a mesothelioma patient stays inactive because they feel fatigued, this may lead to a vicious cycle.

When the body is inactive, it naturally produces less energy for itself, leading to more fatigue. Regular activity is essential to minimize fatigue.

Staying active can be as simple as taking short walks and working on a hobby every day. Mesothelioma patients can also consult their medical team to put together an exercise plan that makes sense for their situation.

Mesothelioma patients should always include short rests in their daily routine. They should not feel guilty for having less energy than they used to. Instead, they must learn a new balance during their cancer journey.

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Last Modified February 6, 2019

Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Matt Mauney, Content Writer at Asbestos.com
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3 Cited Article Sources

  1. American Cancer Society. (2016, May 24). Cancer-related Fatigue.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fatigue.html
  2. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 17). Lifestyle Changes After Malignant Mesothelioma.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/after-treatment/lifestyle-changes.html
  3. Hollen, P. et al. (2004, June). Adapting the Lung Cancer Symptom Scale (LCSS) to mesothelioma. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.20315
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