THURSDAY, Dec. 27, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Too few cancer patients receive care for debilitating fatigue that can last for months or even years after treatment, a new study finds.
"Fatigue is a factor that not only significantly diminishes quality of life but is also associated with reduced survival," study author Dr. Andrea Cheville, a physiatrist with the Mayo Clinic Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said in a clinic news release.
The study, published in the January issue of the journal Supportive Care in Cancer, included 160 lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer patients who had moderate to severe fatigue. They were asked if their oncology teams had mentioned any of the cancer fatigue treatments recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, such as counseling, medications and getting more exercise.
Only 10 percent of patients said they were told to get more exercise or to try other non-medication ways of reducing fatigue. More than 35 percent of the patients were offered sleep medications, even though drugs have been shown to be the least effective way to treat fatigue in cancer patients.
The researchers also found that the type of cancer was a factor in whether patients received treatment for fatigue. Only 15 percent of colon cancer patients and 17 percent of prostate cancer patients received treatment for fatigue, while 48 percent of breast cancer patients were told about counseling.
"We found the vast majority of patients were not engaging in behavioral practices that could reduce fatigue and potentially enhance quality of life," Cheville said. "And almost a third reported napping during the day, which can actually worsen fatigue."
"We could be doing a much better job addressing fatigue, with more reliable instruction for patients and offering treatments that have been shown to work," she said.
Oncologists, however, may not have the time or resources to deal with patients' quality-of-life issues. There may be a need for specialists who focus on helping cancer patients deal with issues such as fatigue, depression and pain, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about fatigue in cancer patients.