Are the effects of cognitive behavior therapy for severe fatigue in cancer survivors sustained up to 14 years after therapy?

J Cancer Surviv. 2018 Aug;12(4):519-527. doi: 10.1007/s11764-018-0690-z. Epub 2018 Apr 12.


Purpose: Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) reduces cancer-related fatigue (CRF) in cancer survivors in the short term. We examined fatigue levels up to 14 years after CBT.

Methods: Eligible participants of two randomized controlled trials who had completed CBT for CRF and a post-treatment assessment were contacted (n = 81). Fatigue was assessed with the subscale "fatigue severity" of the Checklist Individual Strength (CIS-fatigue). The course of fatigue over time was examined with linear mixed model analyses. Fatigue levels of participants were compared to matched population controls at long-term follow-up. We tested with multiple regression analysis if fatigue at follow-up was predicted by the patients' fatigue level and fatigue-perpetuating factors directly after CBT (post-CBT).

Results: Seventy-eight persons completed a follow-up assessment (response rate = 96%, mean time after CBT = 10 years). The mean level of fatigue increased from 23.7 (SD = 11.1) at post-CBT to 34.4 (SD = 12.4) at follow-up (p < 0.001). Population controls (M = 23,9, SD = 11.4) reported lower fatigue levels than participants. Half of the patients (52%) who were recovered from severe fatigue at post-CBT (CIS-fatigue < 35) were still recovered at long-term follow-up. Patients with lower fatigue levels at post-CBT were less likely to show relapse.

Conclusion: Despite initial improvement after CBT, levels of fatigue deteriorated over time. Half of the patients who were recovered from severe fatigue after CBT still scored within normal ranges of fatigue at long-term follow-up.

Implications for cancer survivors: It should be explored how to help patients with a relapse of severe fatigue following an initially successful CBT. They may profit from CBT again, or another evidence-based intervention for fatigue (like mindfulness or exercise therapy). Future research to gain insight into reasons for relapse is warranted.

Keywords: Cancer survivors; Cancer-related fatigue; Cognitive-behavioral therapy; Long-term follow-up.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cancer Survivors* / psychology
  • Cancer Survivors* / statistics & numerical data
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome