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Nausea and Vomiting

Person with cancer putting pill in her hand, as she gets ready to take the medicine.

Cancer treatments can cause nausea and vomiting. These side effects can be prevented by medicine. Sometimes, several different medicines may need to be tried to find the one that works best.

Credit: iStock

Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up.

What cancer treatments can cause nausea and vomiting?

Nausea and/or vomiting can be side effects of most cancer treatments. For example, surgery, some types of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy to certain parts of the body may cause these side effects. 

What are the different types of nausea and vomiting?

The different types of nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment, include acute, delayed, and anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

What serious problems can nausea and vomiting cause?

Nausea and vomiting can cause serious health problems such as malnutrition and dehydration. Controlling nausea and vomiting can help to prevent these problems. It can also help you to feel better. 

Ways to manage 

Your doctor or nurse will work to figure out what is causing your symptoms. Medicines called anti-nausea drugs or antiemetics work well and are effective in preventing or reducing many types of nausea and vomiting. The medicine is taken at specific times to prevent and/or control symptoms of nausea and vomiting.

Here are some practical tips and steps you can take to feel better when you have nausea and vomiting:

  • Take an anti-nausea medicine. Talk with your doctor or nurse to learn when to take your medicine. Most people need to take an anti-nausea medicine even on days when they feel well. Tell your doctor or nurse if the medicine doesn’t help. There are different kinds of medicine and one may work better than another for you.
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids. Drinking will help to prevent dehydration, a serious problem that happens when your body loses too much fluid and you are not drinking enough. Try to sip on water, fruit juices, ginger ale, tea, and/or sports drinks throughout the day.
  • Avoid certain foods. Don’t eat greasy, fried, sweet, or spicy foods if you feel sick after eating them. If the smell of food bothers you, ask others to make your food. Try cold foods that do not have strong smells, or let food cool down before you eat it.
  • Try these tips on treatment days. Some people find that it helps to eat a small snack before treatment. Others avoid eating or drinking right before or after treatment because it makes them feel sick. After treatment, wait at least 1 hour before you eat or drink.
  • Learn about complementary medicine practices that may help. Acupuncture relieves nausea and/or vomiting cause by chemotherapy in some people. Deep breathing, guided imagery, hypnosis, and other relaxation techniques (such as listening to music, reading a book, or meditating) also help some people.

Talking with your health care team 

Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:

  • What symptoms or problems should I call you about?
  • What medicine could help me? When should I take this medicine?
  • How much liquid should I drink each day? What should I do if I throw up?
  • What foods would be easy on my stomach? What foods should I avoid?
  • Could I meet with a registered dietitian to learn more?
  • What specialists could I see to learn about acupuncture and other practices that could help to lower my symptoms?

Listen to tips on how to manage nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy.
(Type: MP3 | Time: 2:18 | Size: 2.2MB)