People battling cancer often experience fatigue and low energy levels, despite getting adequate rest. Fatigue is one of the largest negative impacts on a cancer patient’s quality of life. In fact, in some surveys, patients identify fatigue as a more bothersome effect of cancer than pain. Treating the secondary effects of advanced disease, including fatigue, is one of the main goals of modern cancer research. Lifestyle interventions, such as physical exercise or group therapy, have yet to demonstrate significant improvement in terms of patient fatigue levels. Pharmaceutical approaches may be most effective in reducing cancer-related fatigue.
Ritalin (methylphenidate) is generally prescribed for attention deficit disorder in children and narcolepsy in children and adults, and it’s available in both immediate and sustained release formulations. There is conflicting evidence as to whether Ritalin might be useful in reducing cancer-related fatigue. While some studies have shown significant improvement in cancer patients’ quality of life after taking this medication, others have produced negative or insignificant results.
With cancer, researchers sometimes have difficulty separating the effects of an experimental treatment from a patient’s routine treatment. The most recent study of Ritalin and cancer fatigue, conducted in part by the Mayo Clinic, showed no significant improvement for all but the most serious cases of tiredness. Participants were placed into drug or placebo groups and administered identical tablets for three weeks. Fatigue and quality of life surveys were conducted at regular intervals. As with all drug research, however, primary effect is not the only consideration; adverse effects must be considered and carefully weighed against the desired outcome.
In the Mayo Clinic study, participants receiving daily sustained-release Ritalin reported nervousness and loss of appetite at a rate far greater than the placebo group. Patients with Stage III or IV cancer and severe fatigue showed the most significant improvement, but they also experienced the most adverse events. Whether or not the potential benefits outweigh risks must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Researchers acknowledged that perhaps immediate release Ritalin could offer greater benefit, and future investigations may take up this line of reasoning. As for now, a non-pharmaceutical approach to managing cancer-related fatigue may still be the safest alternative in most instances.
Fatigue, sleepiness, and even depression often linger for months or years after cancer has gone into remission. In many cases, the effects of cancer treatments are so damaging to healthy cells that full recovery is an uphill struggle. Currently, there is no overwhelmingly effective approach to reducing fatigue in cancer patients and survivors. Ritalin might be useful in advanced stages of the disease, but more study is needed to be certain.
- Methylphenidate – PubMed Health. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved April 16, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000606/
- Moraska, A.R., Sood, A., Dakhil, S.R., Sloan, J.A., Barton, D., Atherton, P.J., Suh, J.J. et al. (2010). Phase III, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Long-Acting Methylphenidate for Cancer-Related Fatigue: North Central Cancer Treatment Group NCCTG-N05C7 Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 28, (23), 3673-3679.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.