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Fighting Fatigue During and After Breast Cancer Treatment

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Learn how the exhaustion that frequently accompanies breast cancer treatment and recovery can be minimized with these six health tips.

Fatigue is the most common symptom of breast cancer treatment and it is also one of the most frustrating. Going well beyond occasional tiredness, an estimated 9 out of 10 people report some level of fatigue during breast cancer treatment. In addition, up to 40 percent of breast cancer survivors report that fatigue still interferes with their lives three years or more after treatment. Thus, fatigue-alleviating solutions are in high demand for those with breast cancer.

More than just being tired, cancer-related fatigue is an overwhelmingly extreme sensation of exhaustion and weakness that lingers even with appropriate amounts of sleep. Fatigue from breast cancer treatment can appear suddenly, does not usually ease up with rest and can last for years after treatment ends.

As the most common cancer among American women (except for skin cancer), most of us personally know at least one person affected by breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is so prevalent that nearly 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer at some time in her life.

Why Cancer-Related Fatigue Happens

Scientists do not have a singular reason explaining why people with cancer experience such pronounced fatigue; however, the following appear to play a role:

  • Cancer cells may cause fatigue by leaching nutrients out from where they are needed, altering hormone levels and producing cytokines that contribute to fatigue.
  • Side effects from breast cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy) can impair nutrition, which robs the body of the building blocks for energy. Side effects typically to blame include nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, taste changes, heartburn and diarrhea.
  • Cancer treatments often lower blood cell counts, which can lead to anemia, a blood disorder characterized by insufficient red blood cells that transport oxygen. Since oxygen is required for energy production, fatigue is a typical result of anemia.
  • The emotional stress of cancer and its treatment are usually exhausting and can result in depression – which exacerbates fatigue.
  • Drugs used to treat breast cancer treatment side effects such as nausea, pain, depression, anxiety and seizures can also cause fatigue.

Because there are so many potential causes of fatigue, extreme tiredness should always be discussed with a physician. This is highly recommended to rule out other causes of fatigue and to determine if a new medication or change in therapy could help restore energy levels.

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Tips to Ease Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue

In addition to heeding a physician’s advice for improving energy levels, there are other ways to ease breast cancer-related fatigue. Six respected approaches include:

  1. Prioritize Nutrition – Because living with breast cancer presents several challenges for getting adequate nutrients into the body, those affected must make an additional effort to obtain the raw materials needed for manufacturing energy. Experts suggest consulting with a nutritionist who has experience working with breast cancer. A nutritionist will likely guide you towards consuming adequate calories, protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and water.
  2. Avoid Extreme Temperatures – Try not to indulge in long, hot showers or baths because high temperatures sap people of their energy.
  3. Develop a Deep Breathing Practice – Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can dramatically improve the quantity of oxygen available to your cells. If your cells do not receive enough oxygen, they produce less energy. Conversely, the more oxygen your cells have access to, the greater amounts of energy can be produced.
  4. Consider Acupuncture – A 2004 Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that acupuncture relieved post-chemotherapy fatigue by an average of 31 percent.
  5. Exercise – Moving your body is one of the simplest ways to ease fatigue. The American Cancer Society recommends that people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer exercise regularly (about 4 hours per week) to improve their quality of life and physical fitness. Most exercises are safe, as long as it is done with caution and not overdone. The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling and low impact aerobics taught by a certified instructor. In addition, exercise is frequently cited to alleviate stress and soothe depression.
  6. Supplement With NT Factor® – By improving the health of a cell’s mitochondria (the source of cellular energy), NT Factor® aids many with severe fatigue. As the main ingredient in Fatigue Relief Plus™, NT Factor® has helped severely fatigued people reduce their fatigue by up to 40 percent in 8 weeks regardless of whether or not they had an accompanying medical condition.

Any pronounced fatigue should be evaluated by a doctor, but those with breast cancer still have access to improving their energy levels. With proper nutrition, careful bathing water temperature selection, a deep breathing practice, acupuncture treatments, NT Factor® and regular exercise, those with breast cancer can be proactive in relieving their fatigue.

*Editor’s Note: Prior to embarking on any major lifestyle change or supplement routine, those with breast cancer are encouraged to discuss them first with their physician.

http://breastcancer.about.com/lw/Health-Medicine/Conditions-and-diseases/Breast-Cancer-and-Complementary-Therapy.htm, Breast Cancer and Complementary Therapy, Lia Tremblay, Retrieved September 12, 2010, About.com, 2010.

http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/22/9/1731.full, Acupuncture for Postchemotherapy Fatigue: A Phase II Study, Andrew J. Vickers, et al, Retrieved September 12, 2010, Journal of Clinical Oncology, May 2004.

http://breastcancer.about.com/lw/Health-Medicine/Conditions-and-diseases/Breast-Cancer-Related-Fatigue.htm, Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue, Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, Retrieved September 12, 2010, About.com, 2010.

http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/fatigue.jsp, Fatigue, September 12, 2010, Breastcancer.org, 2010.

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-key-statistics, What are the key statistics about breast cancer? Retrieved September 12, 2010, American Cancer Society, Inc., 2010.

http://www.drz.org/asp/conditions/oxygen_deficiency.asp, Oxygen/O2 Deficiency and Your Brain, Retrieved September 12, 2010, Dr. Z – Peter Zeischegg , MS, DC, DACNB, 2010.

http://www.fatiguerelief.com/, Retrieved September 21, 2010, Natural Wellness, 2010.

http://www.ribbonofpink.com/content/breast-cancer-fatigue.jsp?usertrack.filter_applied=true&NovaId=4029461991483679062, Managing Fatigue, Weiss, M. and Weiss, E. Living Beyond Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide for When Treatment Ends and the Rest of Your Life Begins. New York: Three Rivers Press; 1997. p 275-276.

http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/guide/combating-fatigue, Breast Cancer: Combating Cancer-Related Fatigue, Retrieved September 12, 2010, WebMD, LLC, 2010.

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