Radiotherapy and chemo causes severe fatigue in breast cancer patients

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Women who received both chemotherapy and radiotherapy experienced severe and prolonged fatigue, according to study results published in the Oct. 15 issue of Cancer.

Paul Jacobsen, MD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. and colleagues examined 221 women with non-metastatic, or early stage, breast cancer treated with either radiotherapy (121) or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (100) and their results were compared with 221 age- and geographically-matched healthy women. The women were observed at two-, four- and six-month intervals after treatment.

The researchers were surprised to find that breast cancer patients had a significantly greater number of days with reported fatigue at each of the four assessments. Even at the six-month follow-up assessment, the fatigue remained statistically significant and clinically meaningful in the breast cancer patients.

The study found that heightened fatigue was more prevalent in those patients, who received both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The researchers believe that the findings provide strong evidence that women with non-metastatic breast cancer treated with adjuvant chemotherapy are at a significantly greater risk for severe fatigue.

Jacobsen now plans to investigate whether interventions administered during or at the end of treatment, such as exercise, could prevent or limit fatigue in the post-treatment period.