Fatigue and pancreatic cancer
Fatigue is extreme tiredness, and it’s common for people with pancreatic cancer.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is when you feel very very tired. Fatigue isn’t the same as just feeling tired. It can be exhausting and draining.
Many people with pancreatic cancer have fatigue at some point. It can get worse during treatment and carry on for a few months after treatment. You might feel tired all or most of the time or you might feel very tired suddenly for no clear reason. You may feel weak, not able to concentrate, or have problems sleeping. It might be hard to do everyday things like working and shopping, or to do the things you enjoy. Fatigue can be hard to cope with and may make you feel down. Read more about how fatigue can affect you.
What causes fatigue?
Many things can cause fatigue when you have pancreatic cancer.
- The cancer itself can cause fatigue.
- Problems with eating and digestion can cause fatigue.
- If you have diabetes, you may feel tired and confused if your blood sugar level is too high.
- Symptoms like pain and being sick can be exhausting and make fatigue worse.
- If you have cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, you may find that fatigue gets worse over time.
- Some treatments for pancreatic cancer cause fatigue. These include chemotherapy, surgery to remove the cancer, bypass surgery and radiotherapy. Fatigue can carry on for a few months after your treatment.
- Some medicines, like opioid painkillers (such as morphine), can make you feel sleepy.
- Anaemia is a low level of red blood cells and can be caused by chemotherapy. It can make you feel tired.
- Depression can be linked to fatigue in people with cancer.
- Any problems sleeping can also make your fatigue worse.
- Sorting out these problems can help with fatigue.
"My partner’s fatigue was caused by treatment. Knowing what days of his cycle he felt worst meant we could organise nice things, such as trips away or meals out, when we knew he wouldn’t feel so wiped out."
What can I do about fatigue?
Speak to your doctor or nurse – they will be able to help you if you have fatigue. You should see a specialist nurse, who can provide expert care and advice about pancreatic cancer, and will be able to answer your questions. There are other professionals who can also help, like occupational therapists (OTs).
What can help?
For many people, there are things that can help if you have fatigue. It is not something you have to put up with.
- Try planning your time so that you do things when you have more energy. You could keep a diary of when you have fatigue and anything that makes it better or worse, to help you plan.
- Try to keep active. Gentle activity, may help you feel like you have more energy.
- A talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you deal with problems. It may help with fatigue.
- If you find fatigue gets you down and you start to think the worst about things, try to challenge this. For example, try thinking about the things you can do, not the things you can’t.
- Get some support – from family, the medical team, Pancreatic Cancer UK, or other organisations.
- You could try some complementary therapies. These are things like massage and meditation, which might help you relax.
- Find things to distract yourself from the fatigue, like things you enjoy doing.
- If you find it harder to remember things, read our tips to help with this.
- Steroids are medicines that are used for some symptoms like pain and sickness. They can sometimes help fatigue, but you must follow your doctor’s advice when you take them.
Fatigue can have a big impact on your daily life, and make it harder to do the things you used to. Read our tips for dealing with this, including tips about:
- work and money
- household tasks
- seeing friends and family.
We also have tips for your family so that they can help if you have fatigue.
It can be hard coping with fatigue – but there is support available.
Questions to ask your doctor or nurse
You might want to write down any questions you have for your doctor or nurse. You may also want to take someone with you when you see your doctor. They can write down the answers to any questions and any other important information
- What is causing my fatigue?
- What can help my fatigue?
- Is there anything I can do myself to manage the fatigue?
- How might my symptoms affect fatigue?
- Can my symptoms be treated, and will this help my fatigue?
- Will my treatment cause fatigue, or make it worse?
- Can my treatment be changed or adjusted to help the fatigue?
- How long will it take me to recover from surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy?
- How might my worries affect my fatigue?
- Can you help me deal with things that are worrying me?
- Would cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling help with worries and fatigue? How can I access these?
- Would it help if I saw a dietitian, occupational therapist or physiotherapist? Can you refer me to these professionals?
- I’m not sleeping well – can you help?
- Would complementary therapies help my fatigue?
- How can I get help at work, with my finances or with household tasks?
- Is it safe for me to drive?
- What support is available locally to help me cope with my cancer and fatigue?
References and acknowledgements
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of sources used to write this information
- Anita Balakrishnan, Consultant Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgeon, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge
- Helen Bowker, Lead Occupational Therapist, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
- Victoria Carter, Pancreatic Dietitian, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge
- Dawn Elliot, UGI/CUP Clinical Nurse Specialist, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- Agnieszka Jaworska, Macmillan End of Life Care Occupational Therapist, Northwick Park Hospital
- Lena Loia HPB Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Ollie Minton, Macmillan Clinical Lead in Palliative Medicine, Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer, Horizon Centre
- Sophie Noble, Macmillan Neuroendocrine Tumour Nurse Specialist, University Hospitals of Leicester
- Judith Rennie, Senior Occupational Therapist, Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre
- Pancreatic Cancer UK Lay Information Reviewers
- Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses
Published February 2020
To be reviewed February 2022