Most people with secondary cancer experience periods of fatigue, but there are ways to help manage it.

Why am I feeling exhausted?

Most people with secondary cancer experience periods of fatigue, which can stop you doing your usual activities.

Fatigue can be caused by many things, including:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Low levels of red blood cells (anaemia)
  • Difficulty eating and sleeping
  • Medication
  • Inactivity
  • Your emotional or psychological issues (such as depression)

What can help me to regain my energy?

If you have fatigue, your treatment team should assess this so that together you can work out how best to improve it. Tackling fatigue can be tricky, but a range of approaches can help, including:

  • Treating the cause of your fatigue (e.g. anaemia or depression)
  • Using medications including glucocorticoids, psychostimulants, antidepressants and erythropoietin

Physical activity

Because physical activity can help to reduce fatigue, your treatment team should be able to recommend exercise programmes for you to take part in. Your hospital or centre may even provide these.

Other approaches such as complementary therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy might improve fatigue for some patients, but there is little proof of this.

You may want to talk with other people with secondary breast cancer to find out what has helped them to manage their fatigue.

Emma share her experience of fatigue, and ways she’s found to manage it:

Tips and advice

Advice on getting the best care

To help you feel confident you’re getting the best care, you may want to:

  • Ask for an assessment of your fatigue, so that you and your treatment team can plan the care you need
  • Ask for information on managing fatigue and sources of support
  • Let your treatment team know how well your fatigue is being managed – if it’s worsening, there may be treatments that could help
  • Ask if your health service runs an exercise programme that you could take part in

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: October 2015

Next review due: October 2018

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.