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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Nausea & vomiting

One of the most feared side effects of cancer treatments is nausea and/or vomiting. Nausea is characterized by an unpleasant feeling in the back of the throat or a queasy feeling in the stomach which may or may not be associated with vomiting.

Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatment. Nausea may result when chemotherapy drugs damage the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, certain other triggers, such as sights, smells, taste, motion, anxiety, or pain can also stimulate nausea and/or vomiting.

Not everyone will experience nausea and/or vomiting from chemotherapy. Also, even if you are receiving the same chemotherapy treatment as another person, your antinausea regime will vary. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of medications, such as antiemetics, to help control nausea or stop vomiting before and/or after chemotherapy. In addition, other methods, such as distraction, relaxation, guided imagery and acupuncture may help control CINV.

Tips for managing chemotherapy-induced nausea & vomiting

  • Before you start treatment, talk with your doctor about your risk of CINV and medications and other measures you can take to prevent and/or reduce CINV.
  • During treatment, keep track of when nausea and/or vomiting occur (and the severity) and share this information with your doctor.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, unsweetened juice, ginger ale and sports drinks. You can also try sucking on ice chips. Avoid drinking a lot of liquids during mealtime, as it can make you feel full and bloated.
  • Establish a pattern of eating meals and snacks at the same time each day. Ask your doctor about taking a nausea medication before meals. Avoid eating for one or two hours before a treatment.
  • Instead of large meals, try to eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day. Take your time during meals, chewing slowly and thoroughly.
  • Eat foods that are cool or at room temperature.
  • Stay away from foods with a strong odor, such as coffee, onions, garlic and foods that are cooking. Avoid foods that are hot, greasy, fried, spicy, fatty or high in sugar. Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Eat soft, bland, easy-to-digest foods (e.g., plain crackers, toast, dry cereals, plain yogurt, chicken noodle soup, cottage cheese, pudding, sherbet, gelatin). Choose nutritious, high-protein snacks (e.g., peanut butter and crackers, cheese and crackers, nuts).
  • If you can’t eat solid foods, try liquid or powdered meal replacements and shakes.
  • Rinse your mouth often to keep it clean and remove any bad tastes or odors. Suck on sugar-free mints to get rid of a bad taste in your mouth. If foods have a metallic taste, try eating with plastic forks/spoons.
  • Eat in a seated or upright position. If you need to rest after you eat, do not lie down. Sit up or recline with your head raised for at least one to two hours after a meal.
  • Eat in a quiet, relaxed setting and wear loose fitting clothes. Avoid eating in a room that is stuffy and get plenty of fresh air.
  • Don't force yourself to eat. Eat what appeals to you whenever you can.
  • If you feel nauseated in the morning, try snacking on crackers or toast before you get out of bed.
  • When nausea hits, breathe deeply and slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • During chemotherapy treatment, use simple distractions, such as listening to a relaxation tape or soft music, drawing, knitting, reading or doing crossword puzzles.
  • Use a Sea Band (a wristband that helps control nausea) or an ear patch.
  • Visit with a naturopathic clinician, who can recommend natural supplements (e.g., ginger capsules) or herbal teas (e.g., mint, ginger root) to ease nausea. 

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.