Understanding Cancer’s Impact On Fatigue And Dizziness


Cancer and cancer treatments can cause a variety of troubling symptoms, including dizziness and fatigue. These symptoms can significantly impact quality of life and make it difficult to carry out daily activities. Knowing what causes dizziness and fatigue in cancer patients and how to manage these symptoms is important. This article will explore the potential causes, warning signs, and ways to cope with cancer dizziness, and fatigue.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatments. Up to 90% of cancer patients experience fatigue during their treatment. Cancer-related fatigue is different than normal tiredness – it is more severe, persistent, and often not relieved by rest. There are several factors that can contribute to cancer fatigue:

What Causes Cancer-Related Fatigue 

The cancer itself – Cancer cells release cytokines and other substances that alter biochemical processes and disrupt the body’s normal functioning, resulting in feelings of exhaustion.

Cancer treatments – Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other treatments can cause fatigue by damaging healthy cells and disrupting the body’s energy stores and metabolic processes.

Anemia – Many cancers and treatments lead to anemia or low red blood cell counts, reducing oxygen circulation and causing fatigue.

Nutritional deficits – Cancer and treatments like chemotherapy often reduce appetite and nutrient absorption, leading to nutritional deficiencies that decrease energy.

Emotional distress – The stress and emotions associated with having cancer and undergoing treatment can increase fatigue. Anxiety, depression, and sleep issues often exacerbate fatigue.

Medications – Some medications used to manage cancer symptoms or treatment side effects, like painkillers and antidepressants, can cause drowsiness and fatigue.

Other medical conditions – Fatigue may be worsened by coexisting medical issues like hypothyroidism, heart disease, pulmonary problems, and liver or kidney dysfunction.

Lack of physical activity – Inactivity leads to deconditioning, loss of muscle mass, and increased fatigue.

When Cancer Makes You Dizzy?

Dizziness and balance issues are also common side effects of cancer and its treatments. Up to half of people with cancer experience dizziness at some point. There are several potential mechanisms that can cause dizziness and vertigo in cancer patients:

  • Chemotherapy drugs – Certain chemotherapy agents are toxic to the ears, particularly the vestibular system involved in balance. This can lead to vertigo, dizziness, and balance problems.
  • Brain metastasis – Cancer that has spread to the brain or brainstem can disrupt signaling between brain regions that coordinate balance and spatial orientation, causing dizziness.
  • Central nervous system cancers – Tumors in the brain or spinal cord can directly impair stability and cause vertigo. This is common with cancers like glioma, acoustic neuroma, and medulloblastoma.
  • Brain radiation – Radiation therapy to the head, neck, or brain can damage inner ear structures and nerves, leading to dizziness and balance issues.
  • Anemia – As mentioned, cancer-related anemia reduces oxygen to the brain which can result in lightheadedness and dizziness.
  • Electrolyte imbalances – Fluctuations in sodium, calcium, potassium, and other electrolytes caused by cancer, treatments, or medications can disrupt fluid regulation in the inner ear.
  • Infection – Ear infections are more common in people with weakened immune systems from cancer. Infection and inflammation in the inner ear disturb balance function.
  • Stress and anxiety – For some, stress and anxiety from cancer can trigger dizziness and vertigo. The mechanisms involved likely include inner ear blood flow changes and overstimulation of the balance system.

Warning Signs Of Cancer

Being aware of the potential warning signs of cancer is critically important for getting an early cancer diagnosis and prompt treatment. Some key warning signs to look out for include:

Unexplained weight loss – Losing a significant amount of weight without reason can be an early indicator of cancer.

Fever – Fever without infection could signal blood cancer like leukemia or lymphoma. 

Fatigue – As described, persistent fatigue not relieved by adequate rest may indicate cancer. 

Lump or mass – New lumps under the skin or anywhere in the body should be evaluated. Breast, testicle, and lymph node lumps may be cancerous.

Skin changes – Non-healing sores, new moles or growths, unusual bleeding, or changes in existing moles could be skin cancer.

Digestive changes – Persistent issues like difficulty swallowing, blood in stool, cramping, nausea, or appetite loss are possible GI cancer signs.

Nagging cough or hoarseness – A new cough that persists could be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness lasting over two weeks could indicate laryngeal cancer.

Unexplained pain – Constant pain without a clear cause, like back pain or headaches, might indicate cancer if it persists. Pain may signal bone, spinal, or brain cancer. 

Unusual bleeding – Cancer can cause bleeding not related to menstruation, like blood in urine or stool, unusual vaginal bleeding, or frequent nosebleeds.

Night sweats – Drenching night sweats without clear cause can be associated with lymphoma.

Catching cancer warning signs like these early and getting prompt medical evaluation for appropriate testing can be crucial for successful treatment and outcomes. Listen to your body and do not ignore new or strange symptoms.


Coping with troubling symptoms like dizziness and fatigue can be very challenging for cancer patients. However, understanding what causes these issues and employing some key management strategies can help minimize their impact.

Being aware of potential cancer warning signs is also critical for early detection and treatment. With the help of one’s medical team, cancer-related dizziness and fatigue can often be reduced to improve comfort and quality of life. Ongoing research brings hope for better prevention and relief of these difficult side effects in the future.


1. Is dizziness or fatigue ever a medical emergency for cancer patients?

Severe, sudden, or debilitating dizziness or fatigue can indicate a serious underlying issue for cancer patients. Head straight to the emergency room or call 911 if you experience: severe vertigo with vomiting, inability to stand/walk, double vision, loss of consciousness, weakness/paralysis, seizure, high fever, severe headache, or mental status changes like confusion. These require prompt medical evaluation to rule out serious complications like stroke, brain metastasis, or severe infection.

2. What lifestyle changes can help manage cancer fatigue? 

Gentle regular exercise, stress management techniques, adequate sleep and rest, proper nutrition, staying hydrated, complementary therapies like massage, acupuncture or meditation, and scheduling meaningful restorative activities can all help combat cancer fatigue. Prioritizing tasks, pacing activity, and balancing rest and activity are key.

3. Are there medications that can help treat dizziness from cancer?

Yes, depending on the cause your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce dizziness, like antiemetics for nausea/vomiting, anti-anxiety meds for stress, diuretics for fluid imbalances, or meclizine for vertigo. Some find relief from over-the-counter motion sickness remedies. But check with your doctor first before taking anything new.

Dr. Jun Ren is a dedicated and experienced registered dietitian and nutritionist who is committed to helping people achieve their health goals through personalized nutrition plans. With a passion for promoting healthy eating habits and preventing chronic diseases, Dr. Ren has been able to assist numerous clients in improving their overall quality of life.

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