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Breast cancer patients' persistent fatigue is real, may actually speed up aging
Date:4/6/2011

individuals. The researchers were looking for differences between fatigued and non-fatigued cancer survivors.

"We started looking for biomarkers for cancer-related fatigue," Fagundes said. "Other research has indicated that a systemic inflammation through the body might be a reliable biomarker for this.

"Sick people with inflammation become tired and lethargic, which makes sense since their bodies are using energy to fight off infections. You can imagine that a long-term, systemic inflammation, year-in and year-out, might produce this fatigue."

For the study, 109 women participated and were placed in one of two groups those who reported long-term fatigue and those who didn't. The women varied from being two months to two years after being treated for their disease.

Fatigue is a normal response to breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but one-third or more of breast cancer survivors report continued debilitating fatigue long after treatment has ended.

After a short relaxation period, each woman had blood drawn to establish a baseline level for norepinephrine, a stress hormone that served as an indicator of activity by the sympathetic nervous system. Each participant had to give a five-minute speech before a two-person panel and then do a series of verbal arithmetic problems aimed at increasing stress levels. Additional blood samples were taken immediately after the stressor and then a half-hour later.

The norepinephrine levels rose as expected from the baseline in both groups after the stressful episode but the researchers were surprised to see something different. Regardless of the stressor, women who had persistent fatigue showed higher levels of norepinephrine than those who weren't fatigued.

"They had higher sympathetic activity and lower parasympathetic activity," Fagundes said, an indication that other researchers have suggested is a signal for inflammation.

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Contact: Janice Kiecolt-Glaser
Janice.Kiecolt-Glaser@osumc.edu
614-293-3499
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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