Compared with taking medication, exercise and/or psychological interventions have been found to be more effective at reducing cancer-related fatigue, prompting researchers to suggest that they be recommended first to cancer patients before other treatment options.

For a study published in the journal JAMA Oncology, Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H., and colleagues analyzed 113 studies designed to test for various ways how to treat cancer-related fatigue. All the studies involved randomized clinical trials and were sourced from an initial pool of 17,033 researches.

Over 11,000 patients took part in the studies, almost half of which were women diagnosed with breast cancer. Ten studies were specifically designed only for men and explored cancer types beyond breast cancer.

Exercise As Treatment For Cancer-Related Fatigue

Based on their assessments, the researchers reported that exercise on its own, whether anaerobic or aerobic, offered the most significant reduction in cancer-related fatigue. They also examined the effects of psychological interventions, such as those that educate about cancer, change personal behavior, or help a person adapt better, and found that the treatment option provided similar relief to fatigue.

When exercise was combined with psychological interventions, however, mixed results were achieved so the researchers were unable to determine how to go about combining treatments to achieve maximum benefit. Even so, exercise and psychological interventions combined were still more effective than medication in addressing cancer-related fatigue. Some of the common drugs prescribed include the narcolepsy drug modafinil and ADHD drug Ritalin.

According to Mustian, literature provides proof that these medications are not very effective and yet they are still continually prescribed to patients suffering cancer-related fatigue.

"Cancer patients already take a lot of medications and they all come with risks and side effects. So any time you can subtract a pharmaceutical from the picture it usually benefits patients," she explained.

In another study, it was revealed that colorectal cancer rates are on the rise in millenials and Gen Xers. Colon and rectal cancer cases are dropping for Americans aged 55 years old and above but now three in every 10 diagnoses are for patients younger than 55.

Understanding Cancer-Related Fatigue

As the most common of side effects associated with receiving cancer treatment, cancer-related fatigue is not to be confused with being tired chronically and is characterized by a crushing sensation that is not alleviated by sleep or rest. Cancer-related fatigue can also last for months or even years, and is believed to be caused by the chronic inflamed state that results from the disease itself or the treatment being received.

Cancer-related fatigue is highly problematic: it reduces survival chances for a patient because it can hamper the completion of medical treatments. To highlight the seriousness of the concern, the National Cancer Institute has tagged cancer-related fatigue for priority research.

The current study received funding from the National Cancer Institute and also included contributions from Suzanne Miller, Ph.D., Lisa Sprod, Ph.D., M.P.H., Tenbroeck Smith, M.A., John Scarpato, M.A., Barbara Piper, Ph.D., Luke Peppone, Ph.D., M.P.H., Oxana Palesh, Ph.D., M.P.H., David Mohr, Ph.D., Corinne Leach, Ph.D., Ian Kleckner, Ph.D., Amber Kleckner, Ph.D., Charles Heckler, Ph.D., M.S., and Catherine Alfano, Ph.D.

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