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Research Suggests Breast Cancer Fatigue Begins Before Chemo

Even before women with breast cancer undergo chemotherapy, they experience fatigue and disruptions in sleep and activity levels, according to a new study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, Nebraska.

Researchers say their findings suggest that health professionals should address fatigue following breast cancer surgery and before any further medical procedures begin. Between 70 to 95 percent of breast cancer patients experience fatigue while undergoing chemotherapy, researchers point out, which makes controlling fatigue after surgery even more important.

The report involved 130 women with early stage breast cancer (stage I, II, IIIA), which makes it the largest study to document the prevalence of fatigue associated with altered sleep and activity patterns before chemotherapy treatment. The study - published in the current issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management - confirms what was reported in a previous smaller study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

We found women are not going into chemotherapy in the best possible shape, said Ann Berger, Ph.D., Niedfelt Professor of Nursing, UNMC College of Nursing, who has conducted several studies over the past 15 years related to fatigue in cancer patients. It makes it that much more difficult to reduce the fatigue during treatment. If you start out with some fatigue, it will probably increase.

Dr. Berger said this report means health professionals need to address potential fatigue and sleep issues earlier in the medical process. If women are having sleep problems after surgery, we need to address this symptom before women begin chemotherapy. What weve learned might explain why were having problems reducing fatigue in breast cancer patients during chemotherapy.

The published study comes from initial results of a five-year, $1.5 million grant Dr. Berger and her team received in 2003. The purpose of the stud
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