Nausea and vomiting related to cancer treatment

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You may experience nausea or vomiting as a result of cancer treatment. Find out how you can manage nausea and vomitting during treatment.

Key points

  • Nausea refers to an uneasy feeling in the stomach or feeling that you are going to vomit; vomiting is when you actually throw up.
  • Anticipatory nausea and vomiting is when your body expects that you will vomit right after treatment, even before you have received chemotherapy.
  • Nausea and vomiting can be managed with medications called anti-emetics, prescribed by your health-care team.
  • Non-medical ways to manage nausea and vomitting include eating small amounts of food throughout the day, avoiding spicy or rich foods, sip cool drinks throughout the day, and using distraction techniques.

The term nausea generally refers to an uneasy feeling in the stomach or the feeling that you are about to throw up. Not everyone experiences nausea during cancer treatment. If you do have treatment-related nausea, it’s likely to be stronger if you have received chemotherapy.

Vomiting is when you actually throw up. You can vomit even if you haven’t eaten anything. This can be really painful and annoying, especially if it’s happening often.

You may also experience something called "anticipatory nausea and vomiting". This is when you feel nauseous or you vomit on your way to get your treatment or right before receiving chemo. It happens because your body anticipates, or expects, that you will throw up right after treatment.

Anticipatory nausea and vomiting is really common among teenagers and young adults who are going through cancer treatment. If you think you might be experiencing this, talk to your health-care team. They may have some great ideas to try to help you feel more relaxed about your treatment. You can also take certain medications that work particularly well for anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

How do I manage nausea and vomiting?

There are medications (called anti-emetics) that your health care team will prescribe to help with nausea and vomiting. These are usually given by the nurse before you receive any chemo or radiation. They will help stop vomiting, but they may not prevent it completely. Nausea and vomiting may still occur, even a few days after treatment.

There are a few things you can do to help with nausea and vomiting.

  • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day.
  • Don’t lay flat for at least two hours after eating.
  • Consider avoiding really spicy or rich foods.
  • Choose simple, easily digested foods such as dry toast or cereal.
  • Avoid smells that make your nausea worse – keep a window open if you can, and stay away from the kitchen if cooking smells bother you.
  • Sip cool drinks throughout the day – it’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re throwing up a lot.

If you’re experiencing anticipatory nausea and vomiting, distraction is an important tool. Playing computer or video games, reading a book, or finding some other way to distract yourself before you receive your treatment will help keep your mind off what’s about to happen.

Make sure you tell your health-care team if your nausea and vomiting are becoming a severe problem. If they are not controlled, your team may be able to give you different antiemetics.

You may also find that you lose some weight during cancer treatment because you don’t feel like eating very much. Make sure you let your team know if you’ve lost a lot of weight.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019