Managing Nausea When You're Being Treated for Cancer
Medicine and self-care can help prevent or reduce nausea caused by radiation or chemotherapy.

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Picture of a woman not feeling well Managing Nausea When You're Being Treated for Cancer

Nausea is often a side effect of cancer treatment. Besides being unpleasant, nausea can make it hard to get the nutrition you need. If you don't eat well, you may feel tired and have trouble getting your strength back.

Nausea is common, but that doesn't mean you have to live with it. Medicines and good self-care can help you get nausea under control.

Medicines for nausea
Anti-nausea medicines (antiemetics) are often started before you begin chemotherapy or radiation. You then keep taking them throughout the course of treatment. In many cases, these medicines can prevent or control nausea.

Most anti-nausea medicines are pills that you swallow. If you have trouble swallowing or can't keep pills down, the medicine can be given through an IV line or as a shot. It may also come as a suppository, a skin patch, or a pill that melts under your tongue.

There are many types of anti-nausea medicine. Doctors have guidelines that help them know which one is most likely to work with which chemotherapy drugs. If you have nausea in spite of medicine, be sure to tell your doctor. You may need to try a different one. Some people need 2 or more medicines to get the best results.

Self-care tips
There are many things you can do yourself to try to reduce nausea:

  • Eat less, but more often. Eat several small meals or snacks a day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Try to eat a good breakfast. Often nausea is worse later in the day.
  • Eat an hour or more before you have your treatment. Eat at least an hour or two before your appointment if you tend to get nauseated during radiation or chemotherapy.
  • Beat the heat. Eat foods at room temperature,or colder, if food smells bother you. Be careful to follow food safety guidelines and never let food sit out longer than 2 hours.
  • Limit fluids with meals. They can make you feel bloated.
  • Keep yourself hydrated. Be sure you get plenty of fluids by sipping drinks throughout the day. Good choices are water, weak tea, clear soups, ginger ale, and sport drinks.
  • Don't eat in rooms that are too warm or stuffy. Turn on a fan or open a window.
  • Try to relax. Learning a technique like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or biofeedback may help.

Choose the right foods
Pick foods you like that are mild and easy on your stomach, such as:

  • Crackers, rice cakes, or toast
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Gelatin or pudding
  • Plain rice or noodles
  • Oatmeal or cold cereal
  • Boiled potatoes
  • Skinless grilled chicken
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Canned peaches
  • Scrambled eggs

Avoid foods that could make nausea worse, such as:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Very sweet foods
  • Foods with strong smells
  • Acidic foods, such as orange juice and grapefruit

Some people who have been treated for cancer say that eating ginger has helped them feel better. But more research is needed to know for sure if ginger helps reduce nausea. Ginger may interfere with blood clotting, so you need to talk to your doctor before eating ginger for this purpose.

By Lila Havens, Staff Writer
Created on 10/19/2007
Updated on 05/13/2011
  • National Cancer Institute. Eating hints: before, during, and after cancer treatment.
  • American Cancer Society. Ginger.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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