Ovarian Cancer Symptoms: Fatigue

Ovarian cancer is often thought to generally have no symptoms. However, this is not entirely true. Many of the symptoms tend to be nonspecific, which means they can be symptoms of many different conditions. This can include everyday things, like being tired or not getting enough food or rest.

Knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer can help you be aware of symptoms that do not go away or suddenly arise out of the norm. Being aware of your body and its signs and symptoms can help you talk with your doctor sooner rather than later. This will help you and your doctor find the underlying causes of any symptoms you might be having.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a symptom of many different illnesses and diseases, including ovarian cancer. It is a nonspecific symptom, and even people without any diagnosis can be fatigued. Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or a lack of energy that is significant or even extreme. This feeling remains even if you are getting enough sleep or rest.1

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If you have fatigue that does not go away after several weeks and is not relieved by getting enough rest, proper nutrition, or sleep, tell your doctor. There may be an underlying cause, especially if the fatigue is getting worse.

What can cause fatigue?

Fatigue can be caused by a variety of things, including medical issues and lifestyle factors. These can include:2

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Jet lag
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor sleep or lack of sleep
  • Unhealthy diet/poor nutrition
  • Medicines
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Thyroid issues
  • Chronic pain

This is not a complete list of things that may cause fatigue but merely a jumping-off point to show that many things can cause fatigue. Being fatigued does not necessarily mean you have cancer. This is why it is important to see your doctor if the fatigue does not get better.

What causes fatigue in ovarian cancer?

Fatigue is a common symptom of ovarian cancer. Cancer itself can cause fatigue, but so can its treatment. Cancer can cause fatigue for several reasons:1

  • Cancer can change normal protein and hormone levels that are linked to inflammatory processes in the body that can cause fatigue or make it worse
  • Cancer creates toxic substances in the body that can alter the way normal, healthy cells work

Ovarian cancer can also cause bloating. This bloating can lead to indigestion and lack of appetite. This can make you less hungry and unable to get enough calories or nutrition. This can add to your fatigue. The bloating caused by ascites (fluid) can also put pressure on your lungs, making it hard to breathe. This can also contribute to feelings of fatigue.3

A cancer diagnosis can also cause stress and worry, which can also cause fatigue and disrupted sleep.1

How can fatigue be managed?

The best way to manage your feelings of fatigue will depend on your situation, and how you feel may change from day to day. However, there are some things you can do to help you manage your fatigue:4

  • Plan a loose schedule based on how you are feeling that day
  • Save your energy for what you need or most want to do each day
  • Focus on 1 chore or activity at a time, taking breaks and resting when you need to
  • Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water, and avoid smoking and alcohol. Talk to your doctor about working with a nutritionist if one is not part of your care team.
  • Be physically active, if possible. Ask your doctor about what exercises and activities are right for you.
  • Try relaxation and meditation techniques
  • Ask your family, friends, and neighbors for help when you need it

Your care team may also include a social worker who can connect you with organizations that help people with cancer manage household and daily activities. Talk to them about what options are available to you.4

Things to consider

If you are experiencing fatigue, there may be a variety of underlying causes. Not everyone with fatigue has cancer or ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing serious fatigue for no apparent reason and it does not go away, talk with your doctor. Let them know how long the fatigue has lasted and what you have done to help resolve it.

Your doctor will be able to do a physical exam and run any tests that might help rule out or diagnose various diseases. If advanced ovarian cancer is found, they can then refer you to a gynecologic oncologist who will work with you on putting together a treatment plan.

If you are currently undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer and experiencing fatigue that does not improve, talk to your care team. Tell them about how you are feeling, including how long you have felt fatigued. Together, you and your healthcare team can come up with a plan to improve your symptoms.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021