Nausea and Vomiting in People with Cancer

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.

Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. There are different types of nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment, including anticipatory, acute, and delayed nausea and vomiting. Controlling nausea and vomiting will help you to feel better and prevent more serious problems such as malnutrition and dehydration.

Your doctor or nurse will determine what is causing your symptoms and advise you on ways to prevent them. Medicines called anti-nausea drugs or antiemetics 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. There are also practical steps you may be advised to take to feel better, including those listed below.

Ways to Manage Nausea and Vomiting

You may be advised to take these steps to feel better:

  • 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 about Nausea and Vomiting

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?