Cancer treatment causes differernt types of nausea and vomiting. Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. Controlling nausea and vomiting will help you to feel better and prevent more serious problems such as malnutrition and dehydration.
About 80% of people treated for cancer have nausea and vomiting. Certain medicines can help control this.
Nausea and vomiting related to cancer treatment can be caused by many things, including chemotherapy and radiation. Most of the time these symptoms are short-term and go away when the treatment is over. Tell your health care team if they continue after treatment.
Chemotherapy-Related Nausea and Vomiting
The likelihood of nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy depends on many different things, including:
- The type of chemo drugs used
- How much of each drug is given
- When and how often the drug is given
- How the drugs are given
Not every person reacts the same way to chemo. You may have personal risk factors that make nausea or vomiting more likely, such as:
- Being very nervous or anxious
- Having a history of morning sickness when pregnant
- Being aged 50 or younger
- Being female
There are different types of chemo-related nausea and vomiting. The differences have to do with when the symptoms begin and whether they are resistant to treatments. For example, nausea and vomiting can happen within a few minutes or hours of treatment, or it can start more than 24 hours later.
Ask your doctor whether your cancer treatment is likely to cause nausea and vomiting. If so, can these symptoms be prevented or controlled? Ask your doctor when you should call with concerns about nausea and vomiting. For example, your doctor may want you to call if you are unable to take or keep down your medicine.
To find more information about a specific drug, see MedlinePlus, a web portal from the National Institutes of Health.
Radiation-Related Nausea and Vomiting
Radiation therapy may cause nausea and vomiting depending on:
- Where in the body treatment is given
- The dose of radiation given
- How often the treatment is given
- Whether chemotherapy is given along with the radiation
Learn more about radiation therapy-related nausea and vomiting.
Treating Nausea and Vomiting
Work with your doctor to determine what’s causing your nausea and vomiting and ways to prevent them. Although anti-nausea/vomiting medicines (antiemetics) are commonly used to treat nausea and vomiting, some non-drug treatments can also be used.
Non-Medical Treatments for Nausea and Vomiting
Non-medical treatments involve using your mind and body with the help of a qualified therapist. They may be used alone for mild nausea, and can help if you expect to feel nauseous in the near future. These treatments may include:
- Self-hypnosis—a state of intense attention meant to control nausea and vomiting.
- Progressive muscle relaxation:
- Plan to take about 15 minutes to do the exercise.
- Find a quiet place where no one will disturb you.
- First, apply muscle tension to a specific part of the body. Take a slow, deep breath and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 5 seconds.
- After about 5 seconds, quickly relax the tensed muscles. Exhale as you let all the tightness flow out of the tensed muscles. The muscles should feel loose as you relax them. It’s very important for you to notice and focus on the difference between the tension and relaxation.
- Stay relaxed for about 15 seconds, and then do the same thing for the next muscle group. Once you’ve gone through all of the muscle groups, take a moment to enjoy the relaxation.
- Mental exercises like guided imagery, which lets you imagine that you’re in a place that’s relaxing and pleasant, and systematic desensitization, which helps you practice responding to stressful situations.
- Biofeedback—a machine tells you when your body shows signs of stress. Over time, you can learn to control a certain response of the body.
- Try to reduce stress with deep conscious breathing:
- Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.
- Relax your face, jaw, neck, and shoulders. Gently place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly button.
- As you breathe in, allow the breath to expand your belly, chest, and lungs. As you breathe out, gently press your hands against your chest and belly to let out more air.
- Focus on steady breathing.
- Take your time.
Medical Treatments for Nausea and Vomiting
There are many different anti-nausea/vomiting (antiemetic) medicines. Tell your doctor if the one you’re taking does not prevent nausea or vomiting. It may take some time to find the medicine that works best for you.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, ask your doctor for medicines to help prevent you from nausea and vomiting. Your doctor will consider these things when deciding which medicine to prescribe:
- The severity of your symptoms (how bad you feel)
- The easiest way for you to take the medicine
- Your preference
Keep Track of Medications
Be sure to include things like vitamins, herbs, or other supplements, drugs you take as needed, and medicines you get at the drug store. Use this medication chart from the American Cancer Society to keep track of everything you’re taking.
Repeated vomiting can lead to dehydration, a condition caused by the loss of too much water from the body. Your body must have a certain amount of fluid or liquid to stay healthy. We add fluids to our body by eating and drinking. So if you’re not eating or if you’re vomiting often, it’s important to ask for help.
Know the Signs
- Here are some of the things to look for:
- Dry mouth and lips
- Dizziness, weakness, constipation
- Learn more signs of dehydration.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Tell your cancer team right away if you:
- Vomit repeatedly for 24 hours or longer.
- Can’t take the medicines you need.
- Can’t keep fluids down.
Tips for Preventing Dehydration
Here’s what you can do to prevent dehydration:
- Drink fluids.
- Eat foods that contain fluid, including fruits and vegetables, soups, smoothies, and shakes.
- Try to prevent the causes of dehydration, including vomiting, diarrhea, or fever.
- Keep drinks with you.
- Suck on ice chips.
Ask for Help
Get tips your caregivers can use to help you stay hydrated, too, such as by offering liquids regularly and encouraging you to eat small meals when you can.
Eating and Appetite
- Eat a variety of foods. Choose foods from all the food groups.
- Eat plenty of high-fiber foods, like whole-grain breads and cereals.
- Bake or broil your foods to reduce the amount of fat in your meals.
Tips for 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.
Get Nutrition Counseling
- Ask your doctor to refer a nutrition specialist or dietician to help you keep up a healthy diet during your treatment.
- Meeting with a specialist may also help you manage problems that are common during treatment, such as nausea and vomiting, as well as a loss of appetite and diarrhea.
Ask for Help
Ask family and friends for help shopping and cooking. Let your health care team know if eating is a problem, and when your anti-nausea/vomiting medicines don’t work.
Listen to Tips for Managing Nausea and Vomiting
Find out how to manage nausea and vomiting by listening to this audio recording from the National Cancer Institute.
For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.
Talk to Family and Friends
Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.
Find Peer Support
Talk About Your Concerns
Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.
Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online
The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.
NCI Cancer Information Service
Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.
The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.
ACS National Cancer Information Center
Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.