Fatigue mechanisms in patients with cancer: effects of tumor necrosis factor and exercise on skeletal muscle. Academic Article Review uri icon


  • Fatigue is a common adverse effect of cancer and its therapy. However, the specific mechanisms underlying cancer fatigue are unclear. One physiologic mechanism may involve changes in skeletal muscle protein stores or metabolite concentration. A reduction in skeletal muscle protein stores may result from endogenous tumor necrosis factor (TNF) or from TNF administered as antineoplastic therapy. This muscle wasting would require patients to exert an unusually high amount of effort to generate adequate contractile force during exercise performance or during extended periods of sitting or standing. This additional effort could result in the onset of fatigue. Additionally, cancer fatigue may develop or become exacerbated during exercise as a consequence of changes in the concentration of skeletal muscle metabolites. These biochemical alterations may interfere with force that is produced by the muscle contractile proteins. These physiologic changes may play a role in the decision to include exercise in the rehabilitation plans of patients with cancer. They also may affect ideas about fatigue.

publication date

  • April 1992