Prevalence, characteristics, and treatment of fatigue in oncological cancer patients in Italy: a cross-sectional study of the Italian Network for Supportive Care in Cancer (NICSO)

Support Care Cancer. 2019 Mar;27(3):1041-1047. doi: 10.1007/s00520-018-4393-9. Epub 2018 Aug 6.


Background: Fatigue is one of the most distressing symptoms of cancer patients. Its characteristics and impact on quality of life have not been fully explored and treatment of cancer-related fatigue in Italian oncological centers has not been codified.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was carried out on all patients attending for any reason the 24 participating centers in two non-consecutive days. Patients with fatigue filled out the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI) questionnaire and reported any pharmacological or non-pharmacological treatment for fatigue.

Results: From October 2014 to May 2015, 1394 cancer patients agreed to participate in the study. Fatigue was referred by 866 (62.1%) of patients; its duration was > 4 months in 441 patients (50.9%). In the investigators' opinion, the most important (probable or almost sure) determinants of fatigue were reduced physical activity (271 patients), anxiety (149), pain (131), insomnia (125), anemia (123), and depression (123). Fatigue of moderate/severe intensity was reported by 43%/29.2% of patients, while usual fatigue in the last 24 h by 45%/33.1%, and the worst fatigue in the last 24 h by 33%/54.8%, respectively. Concerning the impact on quality of life, fatigue interfered moderately/severely with general activity in 30.8%/38.6% of patients, with mood in 26.1%/32.8%, with the ability to work in 27.9%/35.6%, with normal work in 26.7%/38.9%, with relationships with others in 21%/23.4% and with the ability to amuse themselves in 22.2%/33.1%. Only 117/866 patients (13.5%) received a pharmacological treatment represented by a corticosteroid in 101 patients (86.3%) while 188 patients (21.7%) received a non-pharmacological treatment such as physical exercise (120 patients, 63.8%) and various alimentary supplements (52 patients, 27.6%).

Conclusions: Cancer-related fatigue is frequently reported by oncological patients; its intensity and impact on quality of life is relevant.

Keywords: Cancer-related fatigue; Characteristics of fatigue; Non-pharmacological treatment; Pharmacological treatment.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Cancer Pain / complications
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / complications
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / etiology*
  • Fatigue / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult