Caring Currents

Tired No More: New Drug Can Treat Cancer Fatigue

Last updated: Jun 18, 2008

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It's bad enough that your mother, father, or other loved one is battling cancer -- do they have to feel exhausted all the time, too?

One of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment that interferes most with quality of life is fatigue, plain and simple. (According to the American Cancer Society, 30 to 40 percent of cancer patients struggle with fatigue, though some experts put the percentage as high as 60 percent.)

Feeling tired all the time can trigger a host of other problems, including depression and sleep issues. Think of it this way: If you're too tired to work, socialize, or exercise, then the cancer has not only taken away your health, it's taken away many of the things that give you joy and keep you fighting.

A new drug may be able to help. Research by Gary Morrow of the University of Rochester Medical Center and funded by the National Cancer Institute shows that modafinil (brand name Provigil) can help cancer patients fight off debilitating post-chemo fatigue, and may even help with the depression that often creates a vicious cycle along with fatigue. Provigil was developed to treat narcolepsy and is also used by shift workers to prevent dangerous drowsiness.

Word about the drug had already begun to spread in cancer circles, as previous smaller studies showed that breast cancer patients found Provigil beneficial in fighting fatigue, depression, and "chemo brain," while brain cancer patients found it improved alertness and memory. Those concerned about using a stimulant can be reassured that Provigil isn't addictive and isn't amphetamine-based.

So far, no one's reporting serious side-effects. If you're a care giver to someone who's fighting debilitating fatigue, ask the doctor to check out the new research. And please, let us know if you have more tips for coping with cancer fatigue.

Image by Flickr user desi.italy used under the Creative Commons attribution license.