The review included a look at 113 past studies that included more than 11,000 adult cancer patients. The researchers found that exercise and/or behavioral and educational therapy seemed to be more effective than prescription drugs for dealing with fatigue.
“Exercise and psychological treatment, and the combination of these two interventions, work the best for treating cancer-related fatigue — better than any pharmaceuticals we have tested,” noted study lead author Karen Mustian. She’s an associate professor with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Wilmot Cancer Institute in Rochester, N.Y.
The upshot, said Mustian, is that doctors should consider exercise and psychological interventions as the “first-line therapy” instead of more medications when it comes to tackling cancer-related fatigue.
The study team noted that cancer-related fatigue is a very common problem among cancer patients, both during and following treatment.
The American Cancer Society describes the phenomenon as distinct from routine tiredness. Even if you get rest, you’re still tired. Your arms and legs may feel heavy. You may feel too tired to do even the simplest tasks, such as eating a meal, according to the ACS.
Beyond affecting overall quality of life, cancer-related fatigue can also interfere with a patient’s ability to continue cancer treatment itself. That may result in a poorer prognosis and, in some cases, a reduced chance for long-term survival, the study authors said.
For the study, Mustian and colleagues looked at cancer-related fatigue triggered by the onset of cancer itself, rather than as a side effect of treatment.
Almost half of the patients included in the review were women battling breast cancer. Ten studies focused solely on male patients. In all, almost 80 percent of study participants were women. Their average age was 54.