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Patient education: Nausea and vomiting with cancer treatment (The Basics)

Patient education: Nausea and vomiting with cancer treatment (The Basics)

Why might I have nausea and vomiting with cancer treatment? — Nausea is the feeling you get when you think you might throw up. Vomiting is when you actually throw up. Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of a cancer treatment called chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that kill cancer cells.

Not everyone who gets chemotherapy will have nausea and vomiting. Your doctor will tell you how likely it is that you will have these symptoms and how severe they might be.

When people have nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, they usually feel better within 1 to 2 days. But some people have symptoms up to 3 to 4 days after their chemotherapy. This will depend on the type of chemotherapy medicines, the dose, and the treatment schedule.

Another type of cancer treatment, called radiation therapy, can also cause nausea and vomiting. Not everyone who gets radiation therapy will have nausea and vomiting. It will depend on the part of the body that is being treated, the dose of radiation, and whether the person gets chemotherapy at the same time.

Can nausea and vomiting be prevented? — Yes. If your chemotherapy is the type that is likely to cause nausea and vomiting, your doctor will give you medicines just before your treatment. These medicines can prevent nausea and vomiting. There are different medicines your doctor can use, and they come in different forms. They can come as a pill, skin patch, or a tablet that melts under the tongue. Or they can go into your vein. You might get 1 or more medicines.

If you are likely to have nausea and vomiting for a few days after chemotherapy, you might also take some of these medicines at home for 2 to 4 days after treatment.

If your radiation therapy can cause nausea and vomiting, your doctor will prescribe medicine for you to take before each day's treatment.

What can I do to manage my nausea and vomiting? — To manage your symptoms, you can:

Take the medicines your doctor prescribes to prevent nausea and vomiting, even if you feel fine. The best way to manage nausea and vomiting is to prevent it from happening.

Make sure to drink enough fluids so that you don't get dehydrated. Dehydration is when the body loses too much water. It can cause your urine to be dark yellow and make you feel thirsty, tired, dizzy, or confused.

Eat 5 or 6 small meals during the day after chemotherapy instead of 3 big ones, especially if you have nausea.

Learn how much to eat or drink before your cancer treatment. Some people feel better when they eat or drink a small amount before treatment. Other people feel better if they don't have any food or drink before treatment.

If you have nausea, avoid foods that are spicy, greasy, or "heavy." Instead, eat foods that are bland, such as crackers, rice, and toast. Other good food choices are soup broths, clear soda, tea, bananas, chicken (broiled or baked, not fried), oatmeal, yogurt (plain or vanilla), plain pasta, and ice pops.

Wait at least 1 hour after your treatment before you eat or drink.

Eat and drink slowly.

Ask someone else to cook your food, if the smell of food bothers you.

Try drinking ginger ale or taking over-the-counter ginger supplements to settle your stomach. Experts don't all agree on whether this works, but some people find it helpful.

Ask your doctor about an alternative treatment called acupuncture, which might be helpful for some people.

Some people wonder about trying marijuana (or other forms of cannabis, like CBD oil) to help with nausea or vomiting. But studies have not compared it with newer prescription medicines that are used to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by cancer therapy. For this reason, doctors do not recommend it. The active ingredient in marijuana, dronabinol, is available in pill form for certain situations. Your doctor might suggest this if other treatments have not worked for you.

When should I call my doctor or nurse? — Call your doctor or nurse if you:

Are unable to keep any food or drink in your stomach

Vomit up the medicines your doctor gives you to prevent nausea and vomiting

More on this topic

Patient education: Nausea and vomiting in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Managing loss of appetite and weight loss with cancer (The Basics)
Patient education: Radiation therapy (The Basics)
Patient education: When your cancer treatment makes you tired (The Basics)
Patient education: Managing pain when you have cancer (The Basics)
Patient education: Coping with high drug prices (The Basics)

Patient education: Coping with high prescription drug prices in the United States (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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