October 2001

From University of South Florida Health Sciences Center

Rehabilitation groups help cancer patients cope with fatigue, USF nursing study finds

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 12, 2001) — Simply providing information and support to cancer patients can reduce the all-consuming fatigue caused by the disease, a new study at the University of South Florida College of Nursing has found.

Cancer-related fatigue is more energy draining, intense and unrelenting than the exhaustion caused by extreme tiredness, said Sandra Holley, PhD, ARNP, the principal investigator and a USF assistant professor of nursing. "It causes physical, mental, social and spiritual distress. All dimensions of one’s being suffer.

"We found that by teaching cancer patients how to manage their fatigue we could help even those who were very debilitated gain energy, improve their levels of functioning, and regain a sense of control," said Dr. Holley, a postdoctoral nursing research fellow at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

The pilot study is published in the October issue of the journal Oncology Nursing Forum. It examined the effectiveness of rehabilitation groups to educate and support people with cancer-related fatigue. Twenty patients with several types of cancer participated in the 8-week program — called Energy for Living With Cancer® — at a community hospital. The average age of participants was 64, and most were undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The patients rated their levels of cancer-related fatigue distress significantly lower and their quality of life significantly higher after completing the rehabilitation program. "One they got their lives back into control, their fatigue was much relieved," Dr. Holley said.

The weekly group sessions were led by oncology nurses, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist and a Tai Chi instructor. Patients were taught energy conservation and relaxation techniques, how to set limits and communicate more effectively with family members providing their care, and ways to organize daily activities so they could accomplish more. They kept diaries to track symptoms such as pain, insomnia, poor appetite and treatments that contributed to their fatigue.

Dr. Holley’s co-investigator for the study was Deborah Borger, MS, RN., an oncology clinical nurse specialist at University Community Hospital in Tampa.












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