Fatigue and pancreatic cancer

Fatigue is extreme tiredness, and it’s common for people with pancreatic cancer.

Key facts

  • Lots of things cause fatigue. It may be caused by the cancer itself, or symptoms of the cancer, such as pain, problems with digestion, and problems sleeping. It can be a side effect of treatments for the cancer. It can sometimes be a side effect of other medicines too.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to tell what is making you tired. A fatigue diary may help with this.
  • There are lots of things you can try to help deal with fatigue. Gentle physical activity and a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy may help. Some people find that complementary therapies, like acupuncture and massage, help them cope with fatigue.
  • Planning your time can help you manage fatigue. Do more when you have more energy and make sure that you rest when you need to.
  • Jobs like cooking, cleaning and shopping can use up a lot of energy. You could ask for help with these. Or find ways to save energy, like shopping online instead of at the supermarket.
  • Fatigue can affect your social life. This can be upsetting for both you and your friends and family. You could ask people to visit you at home instead of going out.
  • Getting some support from family and friends can help you deal with fatigue. Our specialist nurses on the Support Line and local cancer centres can also help. Your family and friends may need support too.
  • If you are working, your employer must make reasonable adjustments (changes) to help you carry on working.
  • It may not be safe for you to drive if you feel tired or sleepy. You may need to tell the DVLA, or the DVA in Northern Ireland, if your medicine or the cancer affect your driving.
  • Talk to your doctor, nurse or other health professionals about fatigue. They can help you manage it.
  • Our app provides lots of useful information to help with fatigue and other symptoms. Read more about it here.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue isn’t the same as just feeling tired. You might feel both mentally drained and physically exhausted if you have fatigue.

It affects people in different ways. It can be constant or it can come on suddenly, for no clear reason. It may affect you before, during and after any treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. It may last for several months after treatment, or sometimes longer.

Fatigue can have an effect on your daily life, making it harder to do things like work and household tasks. It isn’t always linked to how much activity you have been doing. People often find fatigue hard to cope with as you may not be able to do things you have always done.

People sometimes think that fatigue is something they have to put up with if they have cancer. But there are ways to manage it and things that may help you deal with it.

“I don’t think people understand the difference between tiredness and fatigue. Tiredness is when you want to sleep but with fatigue you can’t do anything.”

Read our booklet about fatigue

Download our booklet, Fatigue and pancreatic cancer, to read about fatigue.

You can also download a copy of our diary to help manage your fatigue.

Or, you can order the booklet in print. The diary is included at the back.

Order our Fatigue booklet
Fatigue and pancreatic cancer booklet

Speak to our nurses

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our confidential Support Line if fatigue is affecting you.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Nicci

References and acknowledgements


References

Email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk for a list of sources used to write this information.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on fatigue.

  • Agnieszka Jaworska, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist, Northwick Park Hospital
  • Helen Bowker, Oncology Specialist Occupational Therapist, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
  • Jonathan Hartley, Accredited Counsellor, Supervisor, Trainer, Consultant, Rixon Therapy Services
  • Lena Loia, HPB Clinical Nurse Specialist, Addenbrooke’s Hospital
  • Maria Tynan, Macmillan Specialist Dietitian, Southern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Ollie Minton, Macmillan Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Phil Wilkins, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Colman Hospital
  • Roopinder Gillmore, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Lay Information Reviewers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses

Published October 2022

To be reviewed October 2025