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Drugs for cancer-related fatigue

Minton O, Richardson A, Sharpe M, Hotopf M, Stone P
Published Online: 
10 December 2013

Fatigue associated with cancer is a significant problem. It can occur because of side effects of treatment or because of the disease itself. It can have a significant impact on a person's ability to function. The causes of fatigue are not fully understood and so it is very difficult to treat appropriately. This review has examined drug treatment for fatigue as it represents one of the ways this problem can be tackled. The review authors looked at trials in all types of cancer and at all stages of treatment. Fifty studies met the inclusion criteria but only 31 (7104 participants) were deemed suitable for detailed analysis as they explored fatigue in sufficient detail. They found mixed results with some drugs showing an effect on fatigue - most notably drugs that stimulate red blood cell production and also drugs that improve levels of concentration. Methylphenidate, a stimulant drug that improves concentration, is effective for the management of cancer-related fatigue but the small samples used in the available studies mean more research is needed to confirm its role. Erythropoietin and darbopoetin, drugs that improve anaemia, are effective in the management of cancer-related fatigue. However safety concerns and side effects from these drugs mean that they can no longer be recommended to treat cancer fatigue.

This record should be cited as: 
Minton O, Richardson A, Sharpe M, Hotopf M, Stone P. Drug therapy for the management of cancer-related fatigue. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD006704. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006704.pub3
Assessed as up to date: 
25 January 2010