In a special publication sent to thousands of oncologists nationwide this month, University of Rochester Medical Center scientists offer an in-depth examination of cancer-related fatigue, with hope that a better understanding of the topic will prompt new research and treatment.
Virtually all cancer patients complain of some degree of persistent fatigue. Coping with this challenging side effect is critical to surviving cancer, especially since many people desire to work, raise children, run a household, or engage in recreation throughout their treatments, said Joseph Roscoe, Ph.D., a co-author and research associate professor of Oncology at the University's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.
"It used to be that fatigue was viewed as an inevitable part of sickness," said Roscoe, a cancer survivor. "Now we know better, and there's a great deal of ongoing research about what causes fatigue and how it can be managed. For some people, fatigue is so debilitating that they want to stop their cancer treatments, which is why it is particularly important to find ways to address this problem."
During his own bout with cancer fatigue, Roscoe recalled feeling "jet lagged all the time." But rest or sleep does not alleviate cancer fatigue, and it often persists for months. In some studies, patients report more stress from fatigue than from pain, depression or nausea.
Unfortunately, no one has turned up a quick fix. "Exercise is looking very promising and one psychostimulant drug, modafinil, is being studied as a potential new treatment," Roscoe said. "But nothing yet has clearly demonstrated the ability to relieve cancer-related fatigue."
The Oncologist, a peer-reviewed journal, published a body of work from the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center's Behavior Medicine Unit on current knowledge of this condition. Six articles form a special journal supplement, which is intended for use as a physician reference guide.