Repeated Measurement of Postoperative Fatigue: A Feasibility Study

Principal Investigator: Xin Shelley Wang, M.D., M.P.H.

Despite improvement in cancer care for patients with curable disease, the number one complaint from this population is cancer-related fatigue. Fatigue is associated with other symptoms, such as depressed mood, lack of motivation to do things and difficulty thinking. Fatigue may also be the result of pain and disturbed sleep. Major surgery provokes an integrated physical and behavioral response, with fatigue being a major component. A general agreement of postoperative fatigue is that it increases after major abdominal surgery, but not minor surgery, and persists for up to 30 days. Occasionally it lasts up to three months. There have been relatively few studies of fatigue following surgery for cancer, and methods to test theories of post-operative fatigue have not been available. Because of this lack of knowledge, there is no effective intervention for patients who suffer from severe postoperative fatigue after undergoing major surgery. The current project will assess post-operative fatigue and other symptoms several months after major surgery. We will administer a set of psychological and functional measures in the pre-operative period in order to pilot the collection of data that will help examine the multiple determinants of postoperative fatigue.

Specific Goals

  • To determine the feasibility of using an Interactive Voice Response telephone system (IVR) to track postoperative fatigue and other symptoms of major cancer surger
  • To understand more about the nature and pattern of postoperative fatigue, the study will describe the severity and interference of fatigue caused by major surgery for cancer patients over time, and examine the impact of distress, mood, physical symptoms and symptom management on fatigue
  • To begin to identify the predictor(s) of severe fatigue which could be targeted for appropriate intervention possibly resulting in the reduction of severity and interference of postoperative fatigue


This descriptive study will recruit potential patients during each patient’s visit to the Pre-Operative Clinic. Participants will be surveyed about their fatigue and mood level at different time points: once before surgery, once 72 hours after surgery, weekly for the first month postoperatively and monthly for months 2 and 3 after surgery.


Measurement instruments include the Brief Fatigue (BFI), the MD Anderson Inventory (MDASI), the MDASI-IVR and the Profile of Mood States (POMS).

For more information

Contact: Beth Johnson, R.N., at