August 16, 2011

Sleepless Cancer Patients

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Sleep problems and fatigue affect more than half of cancer patients

(dailyRx News) Treatment for all kinds of cancers can have many side effects, including nausea, anxiety, liver problems and lung disease. Now it is also reported that more than half of cancer patients suffer insomnia.

In fact, sleep problems can persist for months after cancer treatment. Getting a good night's sleep is a major problem for cancer patients - a problem that has only recently been recognized.

"Talk to your doctor about combating insomnia during cancer treatment."

Josée Savard of the Laval University Cancer Research Center in Quebec led research that studied close to 1,000 patients undergoing surgery for cancer. Patients were between 23 and 79 years old, and most had early-stage cancer, including breast and prostate cancers.

The researchers asked patients whether they had trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep. The same patients were followed up with in the months after treatment, to see if their sleep and sleep symptoms changed. 59 percent of patients reported insomnia symptoms, with about half of those severe enough to be classified as insomnia syndrome. That figure is three times higher than insomnia syndrome rates in the general population.

Even more troubling is that 36 percent of those patients still reported suffering from insomnia, even a year and a half after their cancer treatment. In another study led by Julienne Bower at the University of California, Los Angeles, close to two-thirds of breast cancer patients suffered from poor sleep and fatigue. One quarter reported higher symptoms of depression.

"There was a shift in attention a decade ago as cancer survivors were living longer," Bower said. "Oncologists were beginning to notice that they actually were having these persistent side effects and symptoms, and fatigue has probably been the most common.

"Staying active during cancer treatment and maintaining a positive outlook could help ward off some of those symptoms," she added. "You can usually tolerate having some fatigue while you're going through treatment, but you really don't want to have it for the next 10 years."

Findings from both studies were published concurrently in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
August 15, 2011

Last Updated:
July 5, 2013