Clinical update

Cancer-related fatigue: symptoms and management with Untire app

A self-help app offers people who have cancer-related fatigue support, advice and tips

A self-help app called Untire offers people who have cancer-related fatigue support, advice and tips

Picture shows a young woman wearing a headscarf after radiation therapy looking pensive as she uses her phone. A self-help app called Untire can help cancer patients and survivors regain their energy.
Picture: iStock

Essential facts

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is a common side effect for people with cancer.

Among the symptoms are a lack of energy, sleeping problems and feeling anxious, sad or depressed. Other symptoms include muscle pain, feeling breathless after doing small tasks, finding it hard to concentrate, think clearly or make decisions, as well as losing interest in usually enjoyable activities and negative feelings.

According to the charity Macmillan Cancer Support there may be several reasons for CRF including the cancer itself, treatments, anaemia, eating problems, other health issues and the psychological effects of cancer. Patients should be encouraged to do various things that may help, including being physically active, which in turn may improve eating and sleeping, and finding ways to relax.

What’s new?

Research shows that people are routinely using apps to monitor their health, with data from technology company Netis Informatics suggesting 66% of people in the UK use health apps.

Read more clinical updates

A new self-help app called Untire, developed by psychologists, patients and researchers, provides a step-by-step guide to help people with cancer and survivors regain their energy.

Untire’s daily programme includes tips and advice, stress reduction exercises, physical activities and education to help with CRF and it is free to download.

Untire, which has been added to the NHS App Library, can help patients to:

  • Better understand their fatigue.
  • Access daily tips and reminders to improve their lifestyle.
  • Learn mind and body exercises to increase energy levels.
  • Join private online support communities.
  • Track weekly progress and energy levels.
  • Access audio and video guides.
  • Involve ‘buddies’ such as a family member, friend or colleague to share the experience, helping them stick to the programme.

Initial findings from research by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands shows that Untire users reported significant reductions in fatigue, while their quality of life and happiness improved.

How you can help your patient

Nurses play a vital role in helping patients to combat CRF. This begins with encouraging patients and their carers to talk about how fatigue is affecting them. Remember that patients may not initially open up – according to Cancer Research UK more than half of patients with fatigue never tell their doctor about it.

Reasons may include not wanting to bother busy staff, fears that their disease is not responding to treatment, or feeling it is an inevitable part of cancer that they just have to learn to live with.

It is also important to identify any causes before suggesting practical interventions to help patients cope better. Untire may help to reinforce the many ways in which patients can try to manage their fatigue.

A screenshot from a video on the Untire website. The app can help cancer patients and survivors regain their energy.

Expert comment

Picture of Barry Quinn, senior lecturer in cancer and palliative care at Queen’s University Belfast. He comments on a self-help app called Untire can help cancer patients and survivors regain their energy.Barry Quinn, senior lecturer in cancer and palliative care at Queen’s University Belfast

‘The Untire app is excellent. It’s supportive and from the outset it focuses on the person. There is an awareness that factors such as stress, worry and competing priorities can all affect fatigue.

‘The app doesn’t just concentrate on the physical side but takes an holistic and individual approach, covering the physical, mental and emotional aspects of fatigue.

‘In practical terms it helps users to prioritise what is important for them with the energy they have.

‘I like the tip that talks about picking three positive moments in the day before you go to sleep. People with cancer can lose a lot of their self-esteem, and this is a wonderful way to start regaining it.

‘Another section talks about breathing and how paying attention can tell you a lot about how you’re actually feeling. Nursing staff will find this app useful, both for patients and their loved ones.’


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