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Young cancer patients face ‘crippling’ fatigue after treatment

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Young people who have had cancer can suffer with severe exhaustion for months or even years after their treatment has ended, according to new UK research.

Many patients were left unable to study, work or socialise, according to researchers from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support.

“This research shows the importance of getting young people early help for their fatigue”

Anna Spathis

They said young cancer survivors needed more information and support to help them both prepare for and overcome fatigue associated with treatment for their condition.

The in-depth study of 80 teenagers and young adults in England who have had cancer found 46% experienced moderate or severe fatigue after the end of treatment, resulting in poor quality of life.

In addition, 65% of those with fatigue said it significantly affected their ability to go to school or work and 56% that they struggled to socialise with friends and family.

However, 41% of the survey respondents reported having received no fatigue management.

The researchers noted that cancer treatment for teenagers was often longer and more complex than that experienced by older adults, compounding tiredness often felt among this age group.

The authors said: “Although advice to exercise was the most frequent intervention, the greatest impact of fatigue was on the ability to exercise and most did not find exercise advice helpful.

“Early intervention is warranted, supporting adolescents and young adults to persevere with increasing activity, they said in the Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology.

Lead study author Anna Spathis, from Cambridge University Hospitals, said: “This research shows the importance of getting young people early help for their fatigue, supporting them to become active again, and stopping the fatigue turning into a long-term problem.”

“Teens who’ve been through cancer often feel lifeless, aching from head to toe and lacking in energy”

Danny Bell

Macmillan said it was calling for young people with cancer to be fully informed from the outset of the risk of treatment side effects like fatigue, and to be given support to minimise or manage them.

For fatigue, this could include consultations with physiotherapists to provide support and guidance around staying or becoming active, suggested the charity.

Dany Bell, treatment and recovery specialist advisor for Macmillan, said: “Young people who’ve had cancer treatment often struggle just to lift their heads off a pillow.

“People may think that because teenagers are young they would have the ability to bounce back quickly after cancer but that often isn’t the case – they can face crippling levels of fatigue,” he said.

“Teens who’ve been through cancer often feel lifeless, aching from head to toe and lacking in energy,” he said. “If they miss out on school or spending time with their friends, it could affect their social skills and employment prospects in the long run.

“That’s why it is so important that young people are given the help and support they need to battle side-effects of cancer right from their diagnosis so they can lead lives which are as normal as possible and will set them on the right path for their futures,” he added.

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