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Ann Oncol. 2004 Jun;15(6):896-905.

Prevalence and course of fatigue in breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy.

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Department of Health Care Studies, Universiteit Maastricht, The Netherlands.



The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of fatigue and the course of fatigue as a function of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy.


In a prospective cohort study, a sample of 157 patients with breast cancer were interviewed, using the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist and the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory, at the first, third and fifth cycle of adjuvant chemotherapy, as well as 4 and 12 weeks after the last cycle of adjuvant chemotherapy. Patients were treated with either a doxorubicin-containing schedule, or cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil (CMF).


The courses of general and physical fatigue are to a large extent similar. After the last cycle of chemotherapy, the CMF group reported a significant increase in fatigue, which was followed by a significant reduction. In the doxorubicin group a significant increase in fatigue was only seen during the first cycles of chemotherapy. The fatigue experienced at the first and the last measurements do not differ significantly.


The prevalence of fatigue increased significantly after the start of chemotherapy. After chemotherapy treatment the prevalence rate seemed to decline. A different impact of chemotherapy on the course of fatigue was found. In the doxorubicin group a direct increase in fatigue was found. In the CMF group a moderate direct increase occurred, followed by a delayed strong increase. An increase in fatigue was associated with a decrease in daily functioning. At all measurement occasions fatigue was affected by type of operation, such that women with a mastectomy were more fatigued than women that underwent a lumpectomy. Receiving radiotherapy also led to an increase in fatigue. With this knowledge breast cancer patients can be better informed about what they can expect. Further research should include interventions addressing how to reduce or cope with fatigue during as well as after receiving adjuvant chemotherapy.

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