What Causes Fatigue In Colon Cancer?


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What Causes Fatigue In Colon Cancer?

Fatigue is a feeling of weakness and constantly lacking energy. Tiredness should not be confused with fatigue, which is a normal sensation after doing a hectic workout. Unlike fatigue, tiredness is resolved taking a nap or having a good night sleep. Fatigue, on the other hand, is caused by physical or mental stress and is not relieved even after sleeping. It is the deprivation of energy that interferes with the life and does not let the person do daily living activities.

Colon Cancer Associated Fatigue:

Colon cancer has an association with fatigue, as it is a common symptom of the disease. Fatigue typically does not resolve after the treatment of cancer. Colon cancer associated fatigue is the most common and troublesome adverse effect of the disease and its treatment.

Fatigue that results from colon cancer cannot be predicted by tumor size or stage of the cancer or the treatment. This fatigue does not result from exertion or physical stress, rather it has a sudden onset. The following can be possible causes for mild to extreme fatigue in colon cancer patients.

  • Competition For Nutrients:

Our body is an intricate web of interconnected systems. For the efficient working of body, it needs energy just like fuel to run the machine. Our cells are specialized to produce energy but for that, they need nutrients. These nutrients are supplied by the blood.

A Tumor is an aggregated mass of a large number of (extra) cells. For the production and survival of these cells, nutrients are needed. This unnecessary production of cells results in the compromise of nutrients by the normal cells.

With the formation of the tumor, all the cells – normal as well as neoplastic, compete for the nutrients requirement. Normal cells get deprived of the nutrients and consequently fail to produce enough energy. As a result, fatigue occurs.

  • Nutritional Deficiencies:

The other conditions associated with colon cancer are nausea, vomiting and occasionally diarrhea. These accompanying disorders cause nutritional loss. As already mentioned, nutrients are important for the production of energy, this additional loss of nutrients further compromises the nutritional requirement of the normal cells. Consequently, fatigue ensues.

  • Anemia:

In colon cancer, rectal bleeding occurs. The bleeding can be large enough to be seen in or around the stools. However, if the tumor is small, slow and intermittent bleeding occurs. This is often not visible in stool.

The chronic bleeding cause the loss of iron. Iron is important for the synthesis of hemoglobin – that is a protein in the red blood cells, needed to carry oxygen. Its deficiency results in anemia. This further adds to the fatigue related to colon cancer.

  • Mental Illness:

Stress that result from dealing with the colon cancer and worrying about coping with the daily life activities results in fatigue. Also, depression contributes to the additional fatigue. There is a strong link between the mental and physical health. If your mind does not function properly, neither will your body.

There is a fixed amount of blood in the body – 5 liters. Increase in blood supply to one organ results in the decrease of blood supply to the other organs. According to the formulated hypothesis, it is because of the increased blood flow to the brain needed for excessive thinking. This is done at the expense of other organs. Decreased blood supply to other organs result in the compromise of nutrients and oxygen, causing fatigue.

  • Treatment Of Colon Cancer:

Treatment of colon cancer also contributes to overall fatigue. There are several reasons why despite of the termination of cancer, treatment procedures cause fatigue.

One of the reasons is the tissue damage caused by various treatment methods – surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This is followed by a period of physical inactivity or rest. It is in accordance with the normal stress-recovery cycle. To let the body recover, the body triggers a “fake” fatigue response. It is to ensure the body rests properly. This is crucial for recovery, but fatigue may be troublesome.

Another reason for the fatigue, caused as a result of treatment, is the anemia. In surgery, during and after the procedure, blood loss occurs. Consequently, anemia develops temporarily. Anemia is basically a low red blood cell count. Due to less blood cells, oxygen carrying capacity also decreases (as well as oxygen supply), which causes fatigue. Also, the person may feel fatigued due to breathing heavily (increased work) to compensate the less oxygen. Finally, the medications that are used during and after the treatment have side effects causing fatigue.

What Can You Do About The Colon Cancer Associated Fatigue?

Colon cancer associated fatigue poses great challenges to keep up the pace of life. The best way to combat fatigue, is to resolve the underlying causative factors. However, in many cases, it is difficult to isolate or determine the specific cause. Many times there are multiple factors contributing to fatigue. There are some general steps you can take to feel better and cope up with life;

  • Conserve Energy:

The most effective step you can take is to access your fatigue and conserve the energy that your body is able to produce. First, identify the factors that aggravate your fatigue like specific tasks, body postures or time of the day. Also, identify what makes it better. Then, try to avoid the aggravating factors or substitute alternative tasks or postures.

To conserve energy, the most efficient way is to organize your work. It can be done by arranging the items easy to reach, using long handled tools or storing the items lower to reduce tripping. The other way to conserve energy is to take frequent rest breaks. Maintain a balance between the periods of work and rest. Take rest before you get fatigued – rest periods should be short and frequent. You can also delegate the tasks if needed while doing the important tasks by yourself.

  • Meet Nutritional Demand:

In colon cancer, nutrients are lost from the body through many ways. It is imperative to balance the nutrition loss by the gain of it. Calculate the required calories by the body and make sure the intake is fulfilling the estimated calorie need. Get plenty of proteins as they are responsible for the repair of damaged cells and tissues.

Proteins are also important for the normal aging cells. With the increase in proteins intake and also to prevent dehydration, you need to drink plenty of fluids. Fluids can include juices, milk, water, smoothies, milkshakes and other beverages. Consult your doctor or dietitian for making the diet plan and to work on any eating problems you are facing.

  • Use Proper Body Mechanics:

By using proper body mechanics, you can considerably decrease your fatigue. When sitting on a chair, use a back support. Sit with back straight and shoulders retracted. When standing, distribute your weight equally on both legs. Also, maintain the natural curves of the body.

When working, adjust the level of your work that doesn’t require bending at trunk or overhead hand movements. While lifting something, bend your knees using your leg muscles to reach the ground. Don’t lift heavy objects by bending your back.

  • Pace Yourself:

There is no need to rush your activities, as it will cause more fatigue. Moderate speed is better than rushing. Try to reduce sudden or prolonged strains. Substitute alternate sitting or standing. Also add frequent breaks to relax the body.


Fatigue is an inevitable symptom of colon cancer and its treatment. Around 80% patients of colon cancer experience fatigue. Unfortunately, in clinical settings and hospitals, fatigue is not addressed, although it impairs the person’s ability to perform daily life activities and also it exhausts the person. There are some non-pharmacological interventions that help reduce the symptoms of fatigue. Consult your doctor for any problem you may face.








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