Fatigue in advanced cancer patients attending an outpatient palliative radiotherapy clinic as screened by the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System

Support Care Cancer. 2012 May;20(5):1037-42. doi: 10.1007/s00520-011-1179-8. Epub 2011 May 4.


Introduction: Advanced cancer patients present with a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Fatigue is one such symptom which reduces overall quality of life and is difficult to manage. The purpose of this study was to report the presence, severity, and correlating factors of fatigue in advanced cancer patients attending an outpatient palliative radiotherapy clinic.

Materials/methods: Patients referred to the Rapid Response Radiotherapy Program between January 1999 and October 2009 completed the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) prior to consultation. Demographic information including age, Karnofsky Performance Status (KPS), gender, and primary cancer sites were collected. Ordinal logistic regression analysis was conducted to determine relationships between demographic information, other ESAS items, and levels of fatigue. Multivariate ordinal logistic regression analysis was used to determine the most significant predictors of fatigue. A p value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results: A total of 1,397 patients completed the ESAS prior to consultation. Median age was 68 years (range, 21-95), median KPS was 60 (range, 10-100), and slightly more males completed the ESAS (53.0%). Common primary cancers were of the lung (35.8%), breast (20.7%), and prostate (17.7%). Only 179 (12.8%) patients reported no fatigue; the majority of patients reported moderate (31.8%) or severe (34.4%) fatigue. A low KPS (p < 0.0001), being female (p = 0.0056), or being referred for bone metastases (p = 0.0185) significantly correlated with higher levels of fatigue. Patients with a genitourinary primary cancer (p = 0.0078) and/or referred for malignant spinal cord compression (p = 0.0004) reported less fatigue. All other ESAS items were significantly related to fatigue. The most significant predictors of fatigue were pain (p < 0.0001, odds ratio (OR) = 1.07), nausea (p = 0.0010, OR = 1.10), depression (p < 0.0001, OR = 1.10), drowsiness (p < 0.0001, OR = 1.33), dyspnea (p = 0.0003, OR = 1.08), and overall well-being (p < 0.0001, OR = 1.19).

Conclusion: Moderate fatigue was reported in over 66% of our advanced cancer patients prior to radiotherapy. Since radiotherapy inherently causes fatigue, proactive and multidisciplinary management is required for these patients. Similar rates of fatigue severity, in lengthier, fatigue-specific tools, suggest that the ESAS may be a good tool for screening the advanced cancer population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulatory Care / methods
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Karnofsky Performance Status
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult