The majority of cancer patients report asthenia, generalized fatigue that usually stays with them throughout the day and which, in addition, gets worse as the day goes on. Although there is no clear biological cause for this fatigue, it seems that the explanation may be as simple as "the tumor needs energy and takes it from the body itself," says Dr. Enrique Grande, head of Medical Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, who stresses that the type of asthenia can be used as a prognostic biomarker.
So, there are two types of asthenia: one due to the growth and expansion of the tumor and one caused by the effects of antitumor treatments. Therefore, "if the asthenia is related to the growth of the tumor, it usually means a worse prognosis but, if it is related to greater effects of drug treatments, it means that the treatment is reaching high doses in plasma, which usually correlates with a higher survival rate", explains the specialist.
The treatment of asthenia also varies depending on whether the asthenia is due to tumor growth, in which case the aim will be to reduce the size of the tumor, or to pharmacological effects, where the important thing is to readjust the dose of the treatment to reduce the asthenia as much as possible. In this second type of asthenia, the professional may also recommend to the patient, as a measure of prophylaxis, the consumption of fluids and energy giving foods such as dairy products, cold meats or nuts, as well as regular physical activity.
Here, Dr. Grande highlights the importance of each cancer patient continuing his or her normal life. "Each patient should maintain the basal activity that he had until now, which for some will continue to go to the gym and for others it will be down to buy bread," says this oncologist, who says that the solution to asthenia should never be to reduce the physical activity.