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Cancer-related fatigue: Treatment

Cancer-related fatigue: Treatment
Author:
Carmen P Escalante, MD
Section Editors:
Paul J Hesketh, MD
Patricia A Ganz, MD
Deputy Editor:
Diane MF Savarese, MD
Literature review current through: Jun 2022. | This topic last updated: May 17, 2022.

INTRODUCTION — Fatigue is a common problem in cancer patients, both among those undergoing active cancer treatment and in cancer survivors who have completed treatment. The most important factors contributing to cancer-related fatigue (CRF) are progressive tumor growth, treatment with cytotoxic chemotherapy, biologic response modifiers, molecularly targeted therapy (particularly the small molecular tyrosine kinase inhibitors and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies targeting the vascular endothelial growth factor [VEGF] and epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR]) or radiation therapy (RT), anemia, pain, emotional distress, sleep disturbance, and poor nutrition. CRF is particularly prevalent with multimodality or dose-intense treatment protocols, and in patients with metastatic disease. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment".)

CRF profoundly affects quality of life (QOL) of both patients and their families, including physical, psychosocial, and economic/occupational aspects [1-7]. Fatigue is routinely identified by patients as one of the most distressing symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment, yet historically it has been consistently underreported and overlooked as a potentially remediable cause of treatment-related morbidity [8]. In contemporary oncologic treatment, however, screening for and treatment of CRF has become a major focus of supportive care. Guidelines from expert groups, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), recommend screening for CRF at the initial visit, after completion of primary therapy, as clinically indicated (and at least annually) during the period of cancer survivorship, at the time that advanced disease is diagnosed, and at all chemotherapy visits [9-11]. Patients who have completed primary treatment and are undergoing posttreatment surveillance should continue to be monitored because fatigue may persist beyond the time of active treatment. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment", section on 'Screening' and "Overview of cancer survivorship care for primary care and oncology providers", section on 'Monitoring for late or long-term effects of cancer and its treatment'.)

Here we will review the management of CRF in patients receiving active cancer treatment and in cancer survivors who have completed treatment. The prevalence of fatigue in patients with cancer, screening and assessment for fatigue in this population, and an overview of fatigue in palliative care patients are discussed elsewhere. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment" and "Overview of fatigue, weakness, and asthenia in palliative care".)

GENERAL APPROACH — Some basic principles apply to patients with fatigue during active cancer therapy and cancer survivors who have persistent fatigue after the completion of therapy:

All patients undergoing active cancer treatment, as well as cancer survivors and their families, should be offered specific information about fatigue during and following treatment (eg, information about the difference between normal and cancer-related fatigue [CRF], persistence of fatigue beyond treatment, and causes and contributory factors).

For patients who present with CRF, further diagnostic evaluation may be warranted for those with moderate to severe fatigue. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment", section on 'Clinical assessment'.)

Potentially treatable causes of fatigue should be sought for and treated (table 1). These include comorbidities (eg, anemia, electrolyte abnormalities, alcohol/substance abuse, endocrine dysfunction [eg, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, adrenal insufficiency], cardiac, pulmonary, or renal dysfunction), medications, emotional distress, sleep disturbance, pain, nutritional issues (changes in weight/caloric intake), and deconditioning/loss of muscle mass. The clinical team must decide whether referral to an appropriately trained professional (eg, cardiologist, endocrinologist, mental health professional, internist) is needed [10]. (See 'Control of contributory factors' below.)

Symptoms that may contribute to fatigue should be managed appropriately (eg, pain, dyspnea, nausea, sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and anorexia). (See 'Control of physical symptoms' below and 'Antidepressants' below.)

For patients with cancer-related pain who are receiving opioids, opioid analgesics should be titrated or the schedule/agent modified so as to alleviate pain without causing significant fatigue. If needed, a trial of psychostimulants may help to reverse opioid-related sedation. (See 'Patients receiving opioids' below.)

Pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions for CRF are discussed in the sections below. Specific recommendations for managing CRF in patients receiving active treatment, cancer survivors, and in terminal patients receiving palliative care are summarized below. (See 'Interventions' below.)

Guidelines for screening, assessment, and management of adults with CRF during and after therapy are available from Canada (table 2) [12], the Oncology Nursing Society [13], the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and others.

INTERVENTIONS — Management of CRF involves specific treatment for potentially reversible causes (ie, treating anemia or metabolic or endocrine abnormalities, as well as managing pain, insomnia, depression, or anxiety) and symptomatic measures when no obvious etiology or reversible cause can be identified. Nonspecific symptom-based treatment measures include education, counseling, and pharmacologic (eg, psychostimulants and other wakefulness agents) as well as nonpharmacologic (eg, exercise, yoga, acupuncture) measures.

Control of contributory factors — If any of the factors known to be associated with fatigue is identified (eg, anemia, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, sleep disorder, opioid-related sedation), these should be addressed as the initial approach to fatigue. Optimizing management of physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, and dyspnea can help to alleviate fatigue. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment", section on 'Main contributory factors'.)

Control of physical symptoms — Physical symptoms such as nausea, dyspnea, and pain may be associated with fatigue, particularly in patients with advanced cancer. Optimizing management of these physical symptoms may significantly alleviate fatigue. The benefits of systematic monitoring and treatment of physical symptoms in fatigued patients was shown in a randomized trial in which 152 fatigued patients (fatigue score ≥4 on a numerical rating scale of 0 to 10) with advanced cancer were randomly assigned to protocolized, patient-tailored treatment or usual care [14]. The intervention group consisted of four meetings over a 10-week period with a nurse specialist who coordinated a complex intervention aimed at identifying and treating symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, cough, and dry mouth. There were modest but significant improvements over time in favor of the nurse-led intervention for the primary outcome (general fatigue, as assessed by the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory [MFI]) as well as for secondary outcomes such as level of reduced activity, symptom burden, interference of fatigue with daily life, anxiety, and intensity of fatigue as measured by the 0 to 10 numerical rating scale.

Anemic patients — Anemia is the most common reversible cause of CRF, particularly among patients receiving chemotherapy. Correction of anemia has been associated with an improvement in health-related quality of life (QOL) and fatigue [15].

Optimal management of symptomatic anemia requires an accurate diagnosis to identify potentially remediable causes (eg, ongoing blood loss, hemolysis, iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12 deficiency). If a potentially treatable cause cannot be identified, treatment options include red blood cell (RBC) transfusion, or for patients with chemotherapy-related myelosuppression, an erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA). (See "Causes of anemia in patients with cancer".)

Transfusions versus ESAs — Hemoglobin (Hb) levels can be raised with either erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) or red blood cell (RBC) transfusions. The choice between these approaches must be individualized; the risks and benefits of either approach are outlined in the table (table 3), and discussed in more detail separately. (See "Role of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in the treatment of anemia in patients with cancer", section on 'ESAs versus transfusion'.)

Various topics related to RBC transfusion, including indications and transfusion thresholds, and complications are discussed in detail in other topics. (See "Indications and hemoglobin thresholds for red blood cell transfusion in the adult" and "Hemolytic transfusion reactions" and "Immunologic transfusion reactions" and "Transfusion-associated circulatory overload (TACO)" and "Transfusion-transmitted bacterial infection" and "Approach to the patient with suspected iron overload", section on 'Transfusional iron overload'.)

Cancer patients who are being considered for treatment with ESAs as an alternative to RBC transfusion should meet all of the following criteria [16] (see "Role of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in the treatment of anemia in patients with cancer", section on 'Minimal requirements'):

Anemia should be due to chemotherapy treatment for a nonhematologic malignancy.

Other treatable causes of anemia (eg, blood loss, hemolysis, nutritional deficiency [eg, iron, B12, folate]) should be excluded or treated if present. (See "Diagnostic approach to anemia in adults".)

An initial hemoglobin level of 10 g/dL or less should be present, although patients with a hemoglobin level between 10 and 11 g/dL who are highly symptomatic can also be considered for ESA therapy on an individual basis.

Contraindications to use of an ESA include predisposition to thromboembolism (eg, prior history of thromboses, surgery, prolonged periods of immobilization or limited activity, multiple myeloma treated with an immunomodulatory agent plus an anthracycline or high-dose corticosteroid) or uncontrolled hypertension.

However, treatment with RBC transfusions may still be appropriate for patients whose clinical condition indicates the need for immediate correction of the hemoglobin level and for those in whom reducing the frequency of transfusion is not an important consideration. This subject is discussed in detail elsewhere. (See "Role of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in the treatment of anemia in patients with cancer", section on 'Clinical use of ESAs in cancer patients'.)

Sleep disturbance — For patients with insomnia or other sleep disturbance, specific measures to improve sleep hygiene should be suggested (table 4). Stress reduction and especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or integrative medicine approaches such as acupuncture may help. Patients who do not respond to these measures may require short-term use of medications to help them sleep, but we generally discourage use of these agents, especially for long-term use, in patients with CRF.

Sleep disturbance is common in patients with cancer, but sleep problems are seldom identified or addressed in practice. Sleep disturbance associated with fatigue is often difficult to treat and manage. It may be influenced by numerous factors including daytime naps, depression, anxiety, medication, sleep interruption because of nocturia or hot flashes, and evening food and/or beverage intake (table 4).

Some studies have shown that sleep interventions can improve CRF and QOL [17,18], while others have failed to demonstrate benefit [19-21]. A meta-analysis of 14 randomized trials evaluating several interventions to improve fatigue, QOL, and quality of sleep came to the following conclusions [22]:

In the ten studies providing relevant CRF data; there was a significant benefit from sleep interventions (standard mean difference -1.52, 95% CI -2.31 to -0.72), but there was a substantial degree of heterogeneity between studies (I2 = 96 percent).

Of the five studies addressing this outcome, sleep interventions significantly improved QOL (standard mean difference [SMD] 1.20, 95% CI 0.39-2.0), but there was substantial heterogeneity between studies (I2 = 93 percent).

Sleep interventions did not improve overall quality of sleep (six studies, SMD -0.96, 95% CI -2.38 to 0.46), but there was substantial heterogeneity between studies (I2 = 97 percent). There was also no significant effect on emotional fatigue, perceptual fatigue, depression or emotional function.

The best type of sleep intervention has not been addressed. Stress reduction and especially CBT may help in patients with insomnia [23,24]. Integrative medicine approaches such as acupuncture may also help [25]. (See "Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer".)

Other suggestions for improving sleep patterns include taking a warm bath or drinking a glass of warm milk prior to bedtime, avoiding caffeinated beverages following dinner, emptying the bladder just before going to bed, and scheduling naps earlier in the day (table 4). However, frequent napping during the day can interfere with a restful, "restorative" night's rest.

Some patients who do not respond to these measures may need short-term use of medications to help them sleep; however, we generally discourage the use of these agents, especially long-term use, for patients with CRF. The use and choice of pharmacologic therapy for patients with insomnia is discussed elsewhere. (See "Pharmacotherapy for insomnia in adults", section on 'Drug selection'.)

Although commonly used, the benefits of melatonin are unproven, and use of this agent for treatment of insomnia remains controversial. On the other hand, melatonin agonists (eg, ramelteon) have fewer side effects than benzodiazepines and do not appear to be habit forming when used for treatment of insomnia. (See "Pharmacotherapy for insomnia in adults", section on 'Melatonin receptor agonist (ramelteon)' and "Insomnia in palliative care".)

Nonpharmacologic interventions

Cognitive-behavioral and psychosocial interventions — For most patients with CRF both during active treatment and after treatment is completed, we recommend some form of cognitive-behavioral intervention. Patients should be offered advice on general strategies that can help to manage fatigue and guidance on self-monitoring of fatigue levels [10]. Specific suggestions to conserve energy during activities of daily living are outlined in the tables (table 5 and table 6); however, these are not recommended for cancer survivors, in whom regular physical activity is encouraged. (See 'Exercise' below.)

These recommendations are consistent with guidelines for treatment of CRF from ESMO [26] and ASCO guidelines on management of fatigue in cancer survivors [10].

Multiple small randomized trials and a meta-analysis of 77 trials indicate that a variety of nonpharmacologic psychoeducation interventions are effective for improving CRF in patients receiving active cancer treatment [27-35], and its benefits have been shown to persist for at least two years after intervention [36]. However, not all data have been consistent. A meta-analysis of 12 randomized clinical trials (Cochrane review) enrolling patients undergoing cancer treatment with palliative intent for incurable cancer suggested no benefit from nonpharmacologic strategies [37]. Variations in methodologies of included studies, as well as patients enrolled, may account for differences in results of this meta-analysis and previous studies. For example, the Cochrane meta-analysis included only patients receiving treatment for incurable cancer. It is conceivable that such patients would not benefit from these interventions, whereas patients being treated with curative intent and long-term survivors may be more likely to derive some benefit.

Furthermore, whether all patients require formal CBT by a psychologist or psychiatrist in order to benefit from psychosocial interventions is unclear, and to the extent that fatigue has a physiologic basis, cognitive-behavioral interventions may not be effective in all patients. In a randomized study that included 115 patients receiving radiation therapy (RT) for advanced cancer, a structured multidisciplinary program that included cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual interventions did not prevent the development of fatigue [38], even though it was associated with an improvement in QOL [39].

Randomized trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses demonstrate that cognitive/behavioral interventions can also reduce fatigue in posttreatment survivors [36,40-43], and the benefits seem to be maintained with long-term follow-up [36].

Type of intervention — An example of a simple program of cognitive-behavioral intervention with specific adaptive strategies for management of symptoms such as fatigue is available (table 7) [44]. Patients should prioritize and pace activities in an attempt to conserve energy and delegate tasks to others, if feasible [45]. Nonessential activities should be postponed if moderate or severe fatigue is present. Daily self-monitoring in a treatment log or diary may help to identify peak energy periods and the effectiveness of specific interventions. Participation and incorporating family members in activities that are specifically designed to distract from the sense of fatigue (eg, card-playing, visiting) may be useful [46-48].

Structured support groups are helpful for some patients [49-52], although others may benefit from individual counseling for stress management, depression, and anxiety [30,53-55]; stress management/relaxation training [56-59]; or comprehensive programs that enhance coping skills through formal CBT [34,44,60-62].

The benefits of a combined approach to a CBT intervention were studied in a trial in which 273 survivors with moderate to severe CRF (≥4 on item 3 of the Brief Fatigue Inventory [BFI] (table 8)) who had completed primary cancer treatment within the past 24 months were randomly assigned to a 12-week individually tailored CRF program versus routine care [63]. The intervention, which was based upon NCCN guidelines for management of CRF, consisted of internet-based educational information covering six strategic areas of energy conservation, physical activity, nutrition, sleep hygiene, pain control, and distress management, as well as a general introduction to CRF that allowed individual patients to evaluate their CRF status. Patients were assessed at baseline and at 12 weeks with the BFI (table 8) and Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS, ranked on a seven-point scale) for the primary outcome, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire C30 (EORTC QLQ-C30) for secondary outcomes.

Patients who received the cognitive behavioral intervention had a significantly greater decrease in BFI global score (-0.66, 95% CI -1.04 to -0.27) and FSS total score (-0.49, 95% CI -0.78 to -0.21) from baseline, although the clinical meaningfulness of these small differences is unclear. The intervention group also experienced a significantly greater decrease in HADS score and significantly greater increase in global QOL, but the differences were also small and of unclear clinical meaningfulness.

Further study of educational interventions in a variety of cancer patients (those under current treatment with differing interventions, those without evidence of malignancy and on no treatment, etc) and in different geographical and cultural environments is necessary to determine the impact of any educational intervention on CRF in these different settings.

Although a variety of cognitive-behavioral and psychosocial interventions can be beneficial, discovering which patients benefit from what type of psychosocial intervention is an unresolved issue [64]. There are no randomized trials comparing different approaches, and as noted above, it is not clear that all patients require referral to a psychologist for formal CBT. The challenge to the practitioner is to match the characteristics of individual patients with the most helpful and cost-effective interventions. If possible, patients should be referred to psychosocial service providers specializing in cancer and trained to deliver empirically-based interventions [10].

Exercise — Unless contraindicated (eg, by the presence of extensive lytic bone metastases, extreme thrombocytopenia, fever or active infection, or safety issues), we suggest an individualized program of moderate aerobic exercise for most patients with CRF, both during active treatment and for those who have completed treatment. Guidelines from ASCO for management of adult cancer survivors with fatigue recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (eg, fast walking, cycling, or swimming) per week, with an additional two to three strength training (eg, weight lifting) sessions weekly [10]. Likewise, guidelines from the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) also recommend physical exercise of moderate intensity and aerobic and functional resistance exercises for non-cachectic patients with cancer [26].

Walking programs are generally safe for most cancer survivors; patients can begin this type of program after consulting with their doctors, without any formal exercise testing (eg, a stress test) [65]. Patients at higher risk of injury (ie, those with neuropathy, cardiomyopathy, or other long-term effects of cancer therapy) should be referred to a physical therapist or exercise specialist. Breast cancer survivors with lymphedema should also consider meeting with an exercise specialist before initiating a program of upper-body strength training exercises [10]. (See "Clinical staging and conservative management of peripheral lymphedema", section on 'Diet and exercise'.)

To avoid fatigue, cancer patients, particularly those undergoing active treatment, are often advised to rest and downregulate their daily activities. However, because inactivity can induce muscular wasting, prolonged rest can lead to further loss of physical strength and endurance [66]. Although many fatigued patients have difficulty believing that exercise will improve their symptoms, physical exercise training programs can increase functional capacity, leading to reduced effort in performing usual activities and a decreased sense of fatigue [66-70].

Research on the effects of exercise on CRF includes studies of patients receiving active treatment and those who have completed treatment. Experimental designs vary, sample sizes often are small, and many series are limited to women with breast cancer or men with prostate cancer [71]. The type of exercise is variable, with some studies evaluating walking [3,69,72,73], bicycling [74-76], resistance training [77-80], deep water aquatic exercise [81], or a combined approach [82-85], and still others where the patient was allowed to choose the type of exercise he or she preferred [67,86]. The recommended exercise programs vary in length from six weeks to six months.

Regardless of these limitations, all trials and meta-analyses have demonstrated significant benefits (less fatigue and emotional distress, decreased sleep disturbance, improved functional capacity, and better QOL) for moderate exercise in patients with cancer:

A 2012 Cochrane review of data from 56 randomized trials of patients with CRF concluded that exercise was significantly more effective than the control intervention regardless of whether it was delivered during or after adjuvant therapy (standardized mean difference -0.27, 95% CI -0.37 to -0.17), and that fatigue was significantly reduced by aerobic exercise but not by resistance training or other alternative forms of exercise [87]. The benefits were identified for individuals with breast and prostate cancer but not hematologic malignancies.

Similarly, a later meta-analysis of nine randomized trials of home-based physical activity (ranging in duration from six weeks to six months, with the majority lasting 11 to 12 weeks) to alleviate fatigue in cancer survivors showed a significant effect in favor of the intervention immediately afterward (SMD 0.22, 95% CI 0.06-0.37), and at three months (SMD 0.27, 95% CI 0.04-0.51) and six to nine months later (SMD 0.31, 95% CI 0.08-0.55) [88]. Interventions that included frequent counseling (every one to three weeks) were associated with larger improvements in fatigue than no or less frequent counseling.

Improved levels of meaningful and effective physical activity may be facilitated by the use of printed materials, supervised exercise programs, a step pedometer, or a combination of these approaches, rather than a simple recommendation to perform increased activity [89,90]. Specific exercise programs should be preceded by a careful evaluation of comorbidities and exercise contraindications (such as extensive lytic bone metastases, extreme thrombocytopenia). The prescribed exercise program should be individualized and take into consideration the patient's age, gender, type of cancer and treatment, and the patient's physical fitness level. The initial intensity and duration of exercise should be low and slowly increased, as the patient's medical condition allows. Pool activities are an especially good form of physiotherapy.

However, neutropenic patients must avoid environments where the risk of exposure to infectious agents is high (eg, public swimming pools).

Barriers to exercise include physical and disease-related limitations, lack of time/interest/motivation/facilities, and lack of encouragement from family and friends [10]. Younger patients with limited or cured disease may be more motivated to engage in exercise programs than older patients or those with advanced disease or restrictive comorbidities.

Pre-exercise cardiovascular testing — Cancer patients are often older, and they may either have overt cardiovascular disease or be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, direct and indirect effects of anticancer treatment may compound other risks. As a result of these issues, cancer patients may be at heightened risk for a cardiovascular event. (See "Cardiotoxicity of radiation therapy for breast cancer and other malignancies" and "Cardiotoxicity of trastuzumab and other HER2-targeted agents" and "Clinical manifestations, monitoring, and diagnosis of anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity" and "Cardiotoxicity of cancer chemotherapy agents other than anthracyclines, HER2-targeted agents, and fluoropyrimidines".)

An important clinical question is whether all patients initiating an exercise program for CRF require pre-exercise cardiovascular screening. This issue was addressed in a retrospective analysis of 413 patients with confirmed solid or hematologic malignancy (approximately one-half of whom were receiving anticancer therapy including hormone therapy) who were risk stratified prior to beginning an exercise program according to guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) [91,92]. Risk was evaluated during a symptom-limited cardiopulmonary exercise test. The participant risk category was low, moderate, and high in 14, 53, and 33 percent of cases, respectively. There was a low rate of positive stress tests overall (31, 8 percent), and ACSM risk stratification did not predict the risk of a positive test.

While these data suggest that pre-exercise clearance is not required for the majority of cancer patients who are planning to initiate an exercise program, screening should be considered in the following high-risk populations (see "Screening for coronary heart disease", section on 'Recommendations from major societies'):

Patients with diabetes mellitus

Patients with multiple risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD)

Men over age 45 and women over age 55 who are presently sedentary and plan to start a vigorous exercise program

Patients who are at high risk for CHD due to other diseases (eg, exposure to mediastinal radiation, prior anthracycline or cisplatin use, peripheral vascular disease, chronic renal failure)

Mind-body interventions

Mindfulness-based approaches — For cancer survivors with persistent fatigue, we suggest mindfulness-based approaches such as mindfulness-based stress reduction.

There is evidence from randomized trials that mindfulness-based approaches such as mindfulness-based stress reduction may relieve fatigue in cancer survivors [41,93,94]. In the largest trial, 229 women with early-stage breast cancer after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy were randomly assigned to an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction or usual care [94]. The intervention group had significant improvements at weeks 8 and 12 in the primary outcome scores on the Profile of Mood States (POMS) scale, which included fatigue. (See "Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer".)

Yoga — For cancer survivors with persistent fatigue, we suggest mind-body approaches such as yoga.

There is some evidence from randomized trials that mind-body approaches such as yoga may improve sleep quality and fatigue; four of the six trials have enrolled cancer survivors [95-100]. In the largest trial, 410 patients with breast cancer who reported moderate or severe sleep disruption within 2 to 24 months after completing treatment were randomly assigned to standard care monitoring with or without yoga [96]. The yoga intervention consisted of breathing exercises, 18 gentle Hatha and restorative yoga postures, and meditation, performed twice weekly. After four weeks, yoga participants demonstrated greater improvements compared with baseline in global sleep quality, the primary endpoint. In addition, the yoga group demonstrated a greater reduction in daytime dysfunction and reduced use of sleep medications (in contrast to the control group, in which use of sleep aids increased).

Acupuncture — The benefits of acupuncture for CRF are unclear. However, given the overall safety of this approach, interested patients may be referred for a trial of acupuncture if symptoms of moderate to severe fatigue persist despite other forms of therapy.

Benefit from acupuncture has been suggested in at least four randomized trials, some conducted in cancer survivors and some in patients receiving active treatment [101-104]. In the largest of these trials, 302 patients with nonmetastatic breast cancer who had completed chemotherapy between one month and five years previously, and who were experiencing at least moderate fatigue (score ≥5 on a scale of 0 to 10) were randomly assigned to usual care with and without acupuncture [103]. The usual care group received a booklet with information about fatigue and its management, while the acupuncture group received both the booklet and a once weekly treatment by an acupuncturist (needling three pairs of acupoints) for six weeks. The primary outcome was general fatigue at six weeks, as measured by the MFI. Acupuncture was of significant benefit, with an estimated difference in the week 6 general fatigue score (acupuncture minus control) of -3.11 (95% CI -3.97 to -2.25), given equal baseline scores. Acupuncture also significantly improved other fatigue aspects as measured by the MFI, including physical and mental fatigue, anxiety and depression, and QOL.

A major problem with interpreting these results is the lack of a sham acupuncture control group; at least in the setting of noncancer disease such as chronic pain, both acupuncture and sham acupuncture have been shown to have much greater efficacy than no treatment, suggesting a strong placebo effect [105]. (See "Acupuncture", section on 'Summary'.)

An earlier feasibility trial by this same group, which also showed a beneficial effect of acupuncture for CRF, included a sham acupressure but not sham acupuncture control group [102]. On the other hand, benefit from acupuncture could not be confirmed in a preliminary report of a randomized trial comparing acupuncture versus sham acupuncture in 97 patients with chronic chemotherapy-related fatigue [106]. In both groups, scores on the BFI (table 8) fell by about one point, and there was no significant difference between groups.

These data are insufficient to conclude that there is benefit from acupuncture in patients with CRF. Further studies in larger cohorts with a sham acupuncture control group are needed.

Other — Biofield therapies (touch therapy), massage, music therapy, relaxation, reiki, and qigong may offer some benefit [107,108]; however, additional research, especially in the posttreatment population, is needed before any of these complementary therapies can be routinely recommended [10]. (See "Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer".)

Pharmacologic management — Double-blinded trials are essential to prove benefit from any type of pharmacologic intervention in view of the subjective nature of fatigue and the demonstrated therapeutic effect from placebo in at least one double-blind trial [109]. Almost all of the randomized trials addressing pharmacologic management of CRF have been conducted in patients receiving active cancer treatment.

Psychostimulants and other wakefulness agents — For patients with severe fatigue (BFI, question #3 >7) during cancer therapy in whom nonpharmacologic methods are not helpful, and anemia and other medical conditions and symptoms causing fatigue are controlled, we suggest a therapeutic trial of a psychostimulant or other wakefulness agent (methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, or modafinil), although the studies supporting efficacy have reached variable conclusions. Another group of patients that may benefit from the use of psychostimulants are those with opioid-related sedation. Benefit is less certain in patients with mild-to-moderate fatigue during treatment and in those who have completed cancer treatment and have persistent fatigue, but a therapeutic trial is also reasonable if no potentially reversible contributory factors are identified and nonpharmacologic methods are not helpful. (See 'Nonpharmacologic interventions' above.)

These recommendations are consistent with those of ASCO [10] and ESMO, although guidelines from ESMO suggest not using modafinil for treatment of CRF given the mixed results of clinical trials [26].

Starting doses of modafinil are usually 100 to 200 mg in the morning and again at noon. The maximum daily dose is 400 mg. For methylphenidate, we suggest starting with 5 mg in the morning and 5 mg at noon, titrating as necessary; the maximal dose with the potential for benefit in CRF is 40 mg daily.

A benefit for psychostimulants in patients with CRF was suggested in a year 2010 Cochrane review [110] of five trials, in which four used methylphenidate and one used dextroamphetamine [109,111-114]. There was a small but statistically significant improvement in fatigue score relative to placebo (standardized mean difference [SMD] in fatigue score -0.28, 95% CI -0.48 to -0.09). However, the results of these and other trials published since the meta-analysis have been mixed, with most failing to demonstrate a statistically significant benefit over placebo.

Methylphenidate and dexmethylphenidate — Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant that is structurally related to amphetamines, with a short half-life and a rapid onset of action. Both the pharmacologic properties and clinical efficacy as a central nervous system stimulant reside in the d-isomer, which is available clinically as a distinct drug (dexmethylphenidate, Focalin) and effective at approximately one-half the dose of methylphenidate.

Of at least eight published randomized controlled trials [109,111,113-118], only two [111,117] have concluded that methylphenidate has a significantly better impact than placebo on CRF. The following represents the range of findings:

In an early trial, 112 patients with a fatigue score of at least 4 on a scale of 0 to 10 were randomly assigned to 5 mg of methylphenidate or placebo, with patients able to repeat dosing as needed every two hours to a maximum of four tablets per day [109]. Patient-reported fatigue intensity improved over baseline by day 8 in both the methylphenidate- and placebo-treated patients. Thereafter, patients were given the option of receiving open-label methylphenidate. In the open-label phase, the lower fatigue intensity was maintained through day 36.

Within the constraints of a very early endpoint, this study could not identify clinical benefits that were attributable to treatment with methylphenidate and suggested that the observed benefits might be in part because of daily contact with the study nurse as well as a possible placebo effect. This is consistent with observations from other randomized trials that patients with CRF can benefit from active psychosocial intervention. (See 'Cognitive-behavioral and psychosocial interventions' above.)

A lack of benefit for methylphenidate (and from a nursing telephone intervention) was also shown in a later randomized phase II trial involving 142 patients with advanced cancer and a fatigue score of at least 4 on a scale of 0 to 10 [116]. Patients were randomly assigned to one of four groups: methylphenidate (5 mg orally every two hours up to 20 mg daily up to 14 days) plus a nursing telephone intervention (four to six phone calls by a nurse trained in palliative care over a 14-day period focusing on symptom assessment, medication review, psychosocial support, and education), placebo plus the intervention, methylphenidate with a control telephone intervention (nontherapeutic calls conducted by a nonprofessional providing neither support nor education), or placebo plus a control telephone intervention. At the end of 14 days, median scores on the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Fatigue (FACIT-F) subscale improved from baseline in all groups, and there were no significant differences among the groups, leading the authors to conclude that methylphenidate and nursing telephone intervention, either alone or combined, were not superior to placebo in improving CRF. Several cancer-related symptoms were significantly improved in the nursing telephone intervention group compared with those receiving the control telephone intervention (including fatigue, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, appetite, and feeling of well-being).

On the other hand, benefit for dexmethylphenidate was suggested in a randomized phase II trial in which 152 patients who received ≥4 cycles of chemotherapy and had persistent fatigue and cognitive impairment at least two months after treatment were randomly assigned to dexmethylphenidate (5 mg twice daily or as needed up to 20 mg daily) or placebo [111]. After eight weeks, the use of dexmethylphenidate was associated with a significant improvement in fatigue but not cognitive function.

Benefit for methylphenidate was also suggested in a very small trial of 30 hospice patients (one each with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cirrhosis, the rest cancer) who had fatigue scores of at least 4 on a scale of 0 to 10, and who were assigned to methylphenidate (initial dose 5 mg at 8 AM and 1 PM and titrated every three days according to response and adverse effects) or placebo [117]. Patients taking methylphenidate were found to have significantly lower fatigue scores at day 14 compared with baseline, while there was no improvement in those assigned to placebo.

Some of this discrepancy in outcomes could be related to dose. The single positive dexmethylphenidate study used a high mean daily dose (27.7 mg) of dexmethylphenidate (which is about twice as active, mg for mg, as methylphenidate) [111], while the second positive study titrated the dose of methylphenidate over the course of two weeks with a mean effective dose of 10 mg on day 3 and 20 mg on day 14 [117]. One negative study used a relatively small dose of methylphenidate (average daily consumption 6.4 mg per day) [116]. However, another trial, delivering 27 mg per day of dexmethylphenidate, failed to show any benefit for treatment over placebo [115].

Another potential explanation for these discrepant results is the heterogeneity inherent in the populations studied in these trials. Subset analysis of at least one trial concluded that there might be benefit for methylphenidate in patients presenting with more severe fatigue or more advanced disease [115]. Similar findings have been reported with modafinil. (See 'Modafinil' below.)

Finally, benefit from drugs such as these may depend on the underlying mechanism by which CRF has been generated [119]. A greater understanding of the pathophysiology of CRF may lead to the identification of subtypes that are more responsive to specific treatments. As an example, patients with opioid-related fatigue may benefit from methylphenidate [120]. (See "Prevention and management of side effects in patients receiving opioids for chronic pain", section on 'Psychostimulants'.)

Dextroamphetamine — Benefit could not be shown for dexamphetamine (10 mg twice daily) in the only placebo-controlled trial involving 50 fatigued patients with advanced cancer who were receiving palliative care [112]. However, the short duration of treatment (eight days), poor performance status of the group as a whole (the majority were Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group [ECOG] performance status 3 (table 9)), and the wide array of other neurologically active medications being administered could all have contributed to the negative result.

Modafinil — Modafinil, a nonamphetamine "wake-promoting agent," is used for the treatment of narcolepsy. Limited experience in cancer patients suggests that modafinil is well tolerated, but the data on efficacy for CRF are mixed [121-124]:

Benefit was initially suggested in two separate pilot studies, in which a total of 47 patients with a current diagnosis of cancer complicated by fatigue were given modafinil (100 mg daily for seven days followed by 200 mg daily for seven days) [121,122]. There was a rapid and statistically significant reduction in fatigue in the majority of patients, which was accompanied by improvements in daytime sleepiness, depression/anxiety, and performance status.

Results from subsequent randomized trials have been mixed, however:

In a randomized trial, 867 patients reporting any level of fatigue during chemotherapy (a value of >1 on a BFI scale 0 to 10, item 3 (table 8)) were randomly assigned to modafinil (200 mg daily) or placebo [123]. In an analysis of 631 patients with evaluable data, modafinil significantly reduced fatigue only for the subgroup of patients with high baseline fatigue (BFI item 3 score ≥7 (table 8)), while there were no significant differences in patients with mild to moderate fatigue at baseline. Modafinil did not improve depression, reinforcing the view that depression and CRF are not linked.

Benefit in patients with severe fatigue could not be confirmed in a later trial in which 208 adults with locally advanced or metastatic lung cancer and severe fatigue (score ≥5 out of 10) were randomly assigned to modafinil or a matched placebo (100 mg daily for 14 days, then 200 mg daily for 14 days) [124]. In an intention-to-treat analysis of the 160 patients who completed questionnaires at both baseline and day 28, both modafinil and placebo led to a clinically significant five-point improvement in the FACIT-F subscale, and there was no difference between the two groups.

The benefits of modafinil were not addressed in the above-mentioned meta-analysis [110].

Testosterone for hypogonadal men — We suggest a therapeutic trial of testosterone supplementation in men with fatigue who are found to have hypogonadism.

Hypogonadism affects two-thirds of men with advanced cancer. Previous studies have shown that low testosterone levels in men with cancer are associated with fatigue, anorexia, depression, insomnia, and diminished physical function [125,126]. (See "Clinical features and diagnosis of male hypogonadism" and "Causes of secondary hypogonadism in males".)

Testosterone replacement improves QOL and diminishes fatigue in patients with noncancer conditions. (See "Testosterone treatment of male hypogonadism", section on 'Clinical benefits of testosterone therapy in hypogonadal men'.)

The benefit of testosterone replacement for treatment of fatigue in hypogonadal men with advanced cancer has been addressed in the following studies:

In a small double-blind placebo-controlled trial in which 16 patients treated with placebo and 13 patients treated with testosterone (weight-based intramuscular testosterone administered every 14 days to achieve a bioavailable testosterone level 70 to 270 ng/dL) were evaluable for the primary outcome at day 29 [127]. No statistically significant difference was found for FACIT-F total scores between arms, but sexual desire inventory scores and performance status were better with supplementation. In addition, fatigue subscale scores were significantly better in the testosterone group by day 72.

Benefit was also shown in a randomized phase II study comparing testosterone versus no testosterone in 60 men with advanced renal cell cancer receiving targeted therapy with sunitinib or pazopanib who had low total testosterone levels (<12.1 nmol/L) and no evidence of hypothyroidism [128]. Fatigue scores dropped from a mean of 37 to 20.3 from baseline to day 28 in the supplemented group, whereas they increased from 35.3 to 42.5 in the control group. The difference in fatigue score at day 28 between groups was statistically significant (22.5 points, 95% CI 18.4-22.6), and improvements in quality of life were also observed.

Patients receiving opioids — For patients with fatigue and cancer-related pain who are receiving opioids, opioid analgesics should be titrated or the schedule/agent modified so as to alleviate pain without significantly altering mentation. If needed, a trial of psychostimulants may help to reverse opioid-related sedation. (See 'Control of contributory factors' above and "Prevention and management of side effects in patients receiving opioids for chronic pain", section on 'Somnolence and mental clouding'.)

Antidepressants — We suggest a therapeutic trial of an antidepressant in patients with fatigue accompanied by depression. (See "Management of psychiatric disorders in patients with cancer", section on 'Pharmacotherapy'.)

At least three placebo-controlled, randomized trials (and a Cochrane review [110]) in patients undergoing cancer treatment have failed to demonstrate any improvement in fatigue in patients randomly assigned to receive an antidepressant (paroxetine, sertraline) [129-131].

However, antidepressants may be helpful when a patient has both fatigue and depression [131]. For patients who also have insomnia, nortriptyline or amitriptyline are good choices. Case reports suggest efficacy for bupropion in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, but no data are available in patients with CRF.

Glucocorticoids — For patients who are in the terminal phase of their illness who have a high symptom burden that includes fatigue, we suggest a trial of glucocorticoid therapy.

Glucocorticoids such as dexamethasone are beneficial for some patients with CRF [132,133]. The benefits of glucocorticoids were shown in a double-blind trial in which 84 patients with advanced cancer and three or more symptoms related to CRF (fatigue, pain, nausea, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbance) of severity ≥4 of 10 on the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (table 10) were randomly assigned to dexamethasone (4 mg orally twice daily) or placebo [133]. At the end of 14 days, dexamethasone was associated with a significantly better mean improvement of FACIT-F fatigue subscale scores compared with placebo at both day 8 and day 15, and a significantly better mean improvement in FACIT-F total QOL scores at day 15. Within the short time frame of this study, there were no significant differences in the frequency or severity of adverse effects seen with dexamethasone as compared with placebo. In a separate, prospective, observational study of 179 patients with metastatic or locally advanced cancer, independent factors predicting improvement in CRF with steroids were higher levels of fatigue (greater than 5 on a 0 to 10 scale), better overall general condition (Palliative Performance Scale score greater than 40), absence of drowsiness, and lack of either ascites or pleural effusion [134].

However, glucocorticoid side effects limit their long-term use. As such, steroids may be most helpful for patients with CRF who are in the terminal phase of advanced cancer. Dose management is important, as this class of drugs may induce insomnia and/or behavioral changes. (See "Major side effects of systemic glucocorticoids".)

Complementary medicine approaches

Vitamins — The evidence to date suggests that multivitamin supplementation is ineffective at reducing CRF [107]. However, the available trials vary greatly in quality; most are methodologically weak and at high risk of bias. Consequently, the evidence is inconclusive.

Ginseng and guarana

Ginseng – For patients who have moderate-to-severe fatigue who are undergoing active anticancer therapy, a therapeutic trial of American or Korean red ginseng is reasonable, as long as the patient is not receiving drugs that may interact unfavorably with ginseng, such as anticoagulants.

A benefit for American ginseng was initially suggested in a pilot study conducted by the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG) [135]. A subsequent double-blind trial randomly assigned 364 patients with cancer undergoing or having completed curative-intent therapy and who had a fatigue score of 4 or more (on a scale of 0 to 10) for at least one month to placebo or ginseng (2000 mg daily of a pure ground product) [136]. Patients assigned to ginseng had significantly better scores on the general subscale of the Multidimensional Fatigue Symptom Inventory short-form (MFSI-SF) at eight weeks (change score from baseline 20 versus 10.3 in the placebo group, p = 0.003); the difference was not significant at four weeks (change score from baseline 14.4 versus 8.2). Use of ginseng was also associated with significant improvements in the physical subscale and the total score of the MFSI-SF at eight (but not four) weeks, and in the fatigue inertia subscale of the POMS, but not the vigor activity subscale. Greater benefit was reported in patients receiving active cancer treatment as compared with those who had completed treatment. There were no discernible toxicities associated with treatment.

Benefit for Korean red ginseng (KRG, a processed product of Asian ginseng [panax ginseng]) was also shown in a double-blind trial in which 438 patients receiving oxaliplatin-containing chemotherapy for colorectal cancer either in the adjuvant or metastatic disease setting were randomly assigned to KRG (1000 mg orally twice daily) or an identical appearing placebo for 16 consecutive weeks concurrent with chemotherapy [137]. The primary endpoint was the mean change in the area under the curve (AUC) of the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI) from baseline over 16 weeks, with higher AUC levels indicative of a greater improvement in fatigue. At 16 weeks, KRG improved CRF compared with placebo, but the differences were significant only in "mood" and "walking ability." The KRG group had less deterioration in the FACIT-Fatigue Total score and a reduction in the perceived stress scale from baseline to week 16, but the differences were not significant. Neutropenia was more frequent with KRG (19 versus 10 percent), but the incidence of all adverse events was similar. The only potential side effect attributed to KRG was hypertensive crisis (defined as grade 3 hypertension (table 11)), which developed in three patients receiving KRG compared with only one in the placebo group.

One concern about recommending widespread use of ginseng as a treatment for CRF is the potential for drug interactions (especially with warfarin, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, cholesterol-lowering agents, antiplatelet agents, thrombolytic agents, diuretics, hormonal agents, and some chemotherapy drugs) [138,139]. In vitro studies suggest that ginseng inhibits CYP3A4, and clinical studies suggest a potentially relevant interaction between ginseng and some antineoplastic agents that inhibit CYP3A4, such as imatinib [140], but not other CYP3A4 inducers such as irinotecan and docetaxel [141,142].

An overview of herbal medicines and potential interactions of herbal medicines with chemotherapy agents is available elsewhere in UpToDate. (See "Overview of herbal medicine and dietary supplements" and "Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer".)

In addition, patient-oriented information about American and Asian ginseng is available through MedlinePlus National Library of Medicine (NLM). More comprehensive clinician-oriented information on specific interactions of ginseng with other medications is available using the drug interactions program (Lexicomp drug interactions) included with UpToDate. This program can be accessed from the UpToDate online search page or through the individual drug information topics in the section on Drug interactions.

Guarana – For most patients with CRF, we suggest not pursuing treatment with guarana.

Guarana is a stimulant derived from an extract of seeds from a plant in the Amazon (Paullinia cupana). In an early small double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 75 breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, oral guarana at a dose of 100 mg daily significantly improved fatigue scores at the end of 21 days of treatment [143].

However, a benefits for guarana for treatment of CRF could not be shown in a systematic review and meta-analysis of seven studies of guarana that were placebo-controlled and addressed the impact on fatigue in cancer patients (including the double-blind trial reported above); all studies had been conducted in Brazil [144]. The quantity of guarana extract varied between 15 and 100 mg daily, and intervention periods varied between 21 and 90 days. In the meta-analysis, which was restricted to three randomized trials conducted in women with breast cancer, guarana did not reduce CRF compared with placebo (mean difference in brief fatigue inventory -0.2, 95% CI -1.54 to +1.50); however, the quality of the evidence was very low. The most common adverse effects of treatment were tachycardia, insomnia, nausea, and anxiety, in both groups.

Additional high-quality studies are needed to address the benefits of guarana for chronic CRF in breast cancer and in other types of cancer, and to evaluate long-term side effects and drug-drug interactions.

Cancer survivors — Specific guidelines for screening, assessment, and management of fatigue in adult survivors of cancer are available from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and outlined in the table (table 12) [10].

Guidelines are also available from the NCCN that emphasize:

Maintenance of adequate levels of physical activity with use of local resources to help patients to increase exercise, and referral to a physical therapist or exercise specialist for survivors at higher risk of injury (eg, those living with neuropathy, cardiomyopathy, or lymphedema).

Behavioral interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoeducational therapy, and nutritional consultation.

A trial of psychostimulants after ruling out other causes of fatigue and failure of other interventions.

A CANCER-RELATED FATIGUE CLINIC — Clinics dedicated to the management of CRF have been developed and appear to be helpful. Where available, patients with moderate or severe fatigue, particularly if it has not responded to first-line management strategies, should be referred to a CRF clinic for evaluation and management.

Through 2005, 260 patients have been evaluated in the Cancer-Related Fatigue Clinic at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center [145]. For all patients, baseline and follow-up fatigue categories were assessed according to scores on the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI (table 8) [146]) and categorized as severe or nonsevere (moderate or mild). Treatment success was defined as a reduction in baseline fatigue to the lesser fatigue category or subcategory according to the BFI, the primary outcome measure. For patients with treatment success, the follow-up visit number at which fatigue reduction was achieved was recorded (the secondary outcome measure).

The most common diagnosis was breast cancer (33 percent, n = 87). Thirty percent were receiving cancer treatment at the time of their initial evaluation for fatigue. Nearly one-half of patients reported severe fatigue at baseline (47 percent, n = 123); of those with nonsevere fatigue, 80 percent (n = 110) had moderate and 20 percent (n = 27) had mild fatigue. Patients with severe fatigue reported significantly worse symptom status than patients with nonsevere fatigue, including pain, sleep disturbance, depression, poor functional status, and anxiety.

The treatment interventions most frequently discussed and prescribed were energy conservation, sleep hygiene, and exercise plans. An antidepressant, analgesic, stimulant, or anxiolytic medication was recommended to 27, 25, 22, and 17 percent, respectively. With specific treatment aimed at the cause of the fatigue, 59 percent achieved targeted fatigue reductions, including 47 of 69 patients whose severe fatigue decreased to nonsevere fatigue at the first follow-up visit (67 percent success rate) and 49 percent (28 of 57) of moderately-fatigued patients who had a reduction to mild fatigue. Of the 74 successfully treated patients, 62 percent (n = 46) reported success by the first follow-up visit and 22 percent (n = 16) by the second visit. Overall, the Cancer-Related Fatigue Clinic improved fatigue for a majority of returning patients within two follow-up visits.

INFORMATION FOR PATIENTS — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials, "The Basics" and "Beyond the Basics." The Basics patient education pieces are written in plain language, at the 5th to 6th grade reading level, and they answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials. Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are written at the 10th to 12th grade reading level and are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Here are the patient education articles that are relevant to this topic. We encourage you to print or e-mail these topics to your patients. (You can also locate patient education articles on a variety of subjects by searching on "patient info" and the keyword(s) of interest.)

Basics topics (see "Patient education: When your cancer treatment makes you tired (The Basics)")

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Screening and assessment

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is a common, distressing, and potentially treatable condition. The most important contributory factors are cancer, anemia, pain (and its treatment), emotional distress, sleep disturbance, poor nutrition, and other comorbidities. (See 'Introduction' above.)

All cancer patients should be screened for fatigue at the initial visit, at the end of treatment, as clinically indicated (at least annually) during the period of cancer survivorship, at the time that advanced disease is diagnosed, and at all chemotherapy visits. Screening should be performed and documented using a quantitative or semiquantitative scale. A simple visual analog scale (VAS) rating fatigue can be used. Specific recommendations for screening and assessment are provided separately. (See "Cancer-related fatigue: Prevalence, screening, and clinical assessment".)

General measures and control of contributory factors

Patients with mild fatigue (VAS score 1 to 3 on a scale of 1 to 10) that does not interfere with activities of daily living (ADLs) can be reassured and counseled as to coping strategies that conserve energy (table 5 and table 6).

For individuals with moderate to severe fatigue, potentially treatable causes of fatigue should be sought for and treated (table 1). If any of the factors known to be associated with CRF are identified, these should be addressed as the initial approach to fatigue. (See 'General approach' above and 'Control of contributory factors' above.)

-For patients with insomnia or sleep disorders, specific measures to improve sleep hygiene should be suggested (table 4). Stress reduction and especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or integrative approaches such as acupuncture can help. For most patients, we discourage the use of medications to aid sleep. (See 'Sleep disturbance' above.)

-For patients with CRF suspected opioid-induced sedation the dose should be titrated or the schedule/agent modified so as to alleviate pain without causing significant sedation. If needed, a trial of psychostimulants may help. (See 'Patients receiving opioids' above.)

-For patients with CRF accompanied by a significant mood disorder, we suggest a therapeutic trial of an antidepressant (Grade 2B). (See 'Antidepressants' above.)

-For men with CRF who are found to have hypogonadism we suggest a therapeutic trial of testosterone supplementation (Grade 2B). (See 'Testosterone for hypogonadal men' above.)

Patients receiving active cancer therapy

Patients with anemia The underlying causes of anemia should be identified and treated if possible. If a potentially reversible cause cannot be identified, hemoglobin (Hb) levels can be raised with either erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) or red blood cell (RBC) transfusions; the risks and benefits of either approach are outlined in the table (table 3). Specific recommendations are provided separately. (See "Role of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in the treatment of anemia in patients with cancer", section on 'Managing anemia in cancer patients'.)

Patients without anemia

-For most patients, we suggest some form of cognitive-behavioral intervention (Grade 2C). Structured support groups are helpful for some patients, while others may benefit from individual counseling for stress management, depression, and anxiety; stress management/relaxation training; or comprehensive programs that enhance coping skills through formal CBT. (See 'Cognitive-behavioral and psychosocial interventions' above.)

-Mind-body therapies such as yoga or mindfulness-based approaches may also be of benefit. (See 'Mind-body interventions' above.)

-For most patients, we suggest an individualized program of moderate aerobic exercise unless contraindicated (eg, by the presence of extensive lytic bone metastases, extensive cachexia, extreme thrombocytopenia, fever or active infection, or safety issues) (Grade 2B). (See 'Exercise' above.)

-For patients with severe fatigue (Brief Fatigue Inventory [BFI] question #3 >7) in whom nonpharmacologic methods do not resolve fatigue, and contributory factors are controlled, we suggest a therapeutic trial of a wakefulness agent (methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, or modafinil) (Grade 2B). Another group of patients that may benefit from the use of psychostimulants are those with opioid-related fatigue. (See 'Psychostimulants and other wakefulness agents' above.)

-Although the benefits of acupuncture remain unclear, given the overall safety of this approach, interested patients may be referred for a trial if symptoms of moderate-to-severe fatigue persist despite other treatments. (See 'Acupuncture' above.)

-For patients with moderate to severe fatigue who are undergoing active anticancer therapy, a therapeutic trial of ginseng is reasonable, as long as the patient is not receiving drugs that may interact unfavorably with ginseng, such as anticoagulants. For most patients, we suggest not pursuing a trial of guarana (Grade 2C). (See 'Ginseng and guarana' above.)

Cancer survivors – Our recommended approach to treatment of cancer survivors is consistent with guidelines from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) (table 12) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN):

For most patients, we suggest an individualized program of moderate aerobic exercise (Grade 2B). Walking programs are generally safe for most cancer survivors; patients can begin this type of program after consulting with their doctors, without any formal exercise testing (eg, a stress test). Patients at higher risk of injury (ie, those with neuropathy, cardiomyopathy, or other long-term effects of cancer therapy) should be referred to a physical therapist or exercise specialist prior to embarking on an exercise program. (See 'Exercise' above.)

If fatigue persists despite exercise, nonpharmacologic treatment options include cognitive-behavioral interventions or mind-body approaches such as yoga and/or mindfulness-based stress reduction. (See 'Cognitive-behavioral and psychosocial interventions' above.)

For survivors with severe fatigue after completing cancer treatment (BFI question #3 >7) that remains unresolved with nonpharmacologic treatments, and no other potentially treatable cause is identified, some clinicians would offer a therapeutic trial of a psychostimulant or other wakefulness agent. (See 'Psychostimulants and other wakefulness agents' above.)

Terminally-ill patients – For patients who are in the terminal phase of their illness who have a high symptom burden that includes fatigue, we suggest a trial of glucocorticoid therapy (Grade 2B). (See 'Glucocorticoids' above and "Overview of fatigue, weakness, and asthenia in palliative care", section on 'Glucocorticoids'.)

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Topic 2813 Version 66.0

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