Fatigue is a common symptom of advanced cancer limiting one's activity and affecting the quality of life. It is a multidimensional symptom complex with subjective and objective components. Hence, its definition and assessment seems arbitrary, incomplete, and elusive. Components of fatigue often merge with other ‘disease states’ as anemia, depression and so on, compounding difficulty to assess it separately. Fatigue has a high prevalence rate, and lasts longer in chronic diseases like cancer. Its association with treatment modalities like chemotherapy, radiotherapy alongside the primary disease process makes it seemingly ubiquitous in many cases. Systemic manifestation of cancer causes excess demand on body resources on cell repair, uncontrolled growth with metabolite accumulation causing fatigue. Co-morbid conditions of organic and psychological nature causes fatigue. There are many assessment tools for fatigue with different uses and objectives, simple and reproducible tools like Brief Fatigue Inventory, Edmonton Symptom assessment scale seem feasible in everyday practice. Management of fatigue is not straightforward and rewarding. Although treatment of cause appears to be an attractive option, it is not possible in all cases. Therapeutic agents targeting cytokine load is in early stages of study and available results are not favorable. Specific measures aimed at pain relief, prevention/treatment of sepsis, management of depression, avoidance of drugs causing fatigue, restoring the metabolic profile are important. Methyl phenidate, megestrol, and modafinil are some drugs with promising effect to treat fatigue, though confirmatory studies are yet to be established. Non-pharmacological methods are also helpful. Forewarning patients on upcoming fatigue, active regular exercise, and stress management are some of them. Fatigue being a multidimensional entity, single mode of therapy is insufficient. Combined modality tailored to individual patient need and understanding may be the right way to battle this ill-understood symptom. This review article examines the etiopathogenesis and management strategies of fatigue in cancer.
Keywords: Chemotherapy, Fatigue, Palliation, Radiotherapy