Insomnia, fatigue common in people with cancer

Wed Aug 10, 2011 10:24pm EDT
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By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than half of cancer patients may suffer symptoms of insomnia during treatment, and for some, sleep problems can persist for months afterward, according to a new study.

The findings "point to the fact that sleep, including insomnia symptoms, are a really big problem for cancer patients," said Carol Enderlin, who studies sleep in breast cancer patients at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

"Many of them may think this is just something they have to deal with," Enderlin, who was not involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

But the message for patients, she said, is "to be aware of sleep and the importance of sleep, to report changes in sleep to your healthcare provider before they become severe (and) to not be afraid to bring them up."

Canadian researchers, led by Josee Savard of the Laval University Cancer Research Center in Quebec, asked close to 1,000 patients getting surgery for cancer whether they had trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep. Then, they regularly followed up with the same patients to see if their sleep and sleep symptoms changed over the months after treatment.

Patients were between 23 and 79 years old, and most had early-stage cancer, including breast and prostate cancers.

At the time of treatment, 59 percent of patients reported symptoms of insomnia, and about half of those were severe enough to qualify as insomnia syndrome, a collection of persistent symptoms such as requiring more than half an hour to fall asleep at least three nights per week. That rate was three times higher than insomnia syndrome rates in the general population.

One and a half years later, 36 percent of the participants reported insomnia symptoms.   Continued...