What is nausea and vomiting from cancer treatment?

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What non-medicine treatments may help with cancer-related nausea and vomiting?

Anti-nausea medicines are the main way to treat nausea and vomiting. Non-medicine treatments may also help. Some complementary therapies involve the help of a qualified therapist who can teach you to use your mind and body to control nausea and vomiting. These treatments may help you relax and feel more in control.

Complementary therapies

Complementary treatments include:

Biofeedback.

It uses your mind to control a body function that your body normally regulates on its own, such as skin temperature, muscle tension, or heart rate.

Guided imagery.

This is a series of thoughts and suggestions that direct your imagination toward a relaxed, focused state. This technique can help you mentally block nausea and vomiting.

Distraction.

For example, playing a video game may help to distract a child during cancer treatment. This may also help mentally block nausea and vomiting.

Acupuncture.

This is done by putting very thin needles into your skin at certain points on your body.

Acupressure.

Constant pressure on the P6 point is used to prevent or reduce nausea. The P6 point is on the inner side of your arm, in line with your middle finger. It is close to your wrist, one-sixth of the distance between your wrist and elbow. You can press on your arm with a thumb or finger. Or you can wear wristbands (such as Sea-Bands) that press a plastic disc on the P6 point on each arm.

Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana may ease the nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment. But there isn't much evidence that using medical marijuana prevents nausea and vomiting. Some doctors use the synthetic form of marijuana to treat these symptoms.

Marijuana can cause unpleasant side effects. These include dry mouth, low blood pressure, and dizziness, especially in older people or people who haven't used it before. Marijuana is illegal in some states.

What medicines can help with cancer-related nausea and vomiting?

Anti-nausea medicines include aprepitant, granisetron, and ondansetron. These medicines are very good at preventing or controlling nausea and vomiting.

Anti-nausea medicines can be given into a vein (I.V.), as pills you swallow, or as shots. Some are available as suppositories. Some are capsules that melt in your mouth or a patch that is taped to your skin. You may get more than one kind of anti-nausea drug.

The medicines are usually taken every day for as long as cancer treatment lasts. Sometimes you may be asked to take them only as needed.

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions for taking your medicines. Report back about how well they work. Tell your doctor right away if you have nausea and vomiting in spite of taking anti-nausea medicine. A different medicine may solve the problem.

How can you care for yourself when cancer treatments make you nauseated?

Medicines

  • Talk to your care team if you have nausea or are vomiting. These side effects from cancer treatment can almost always be controlled with medicine. If you are taking medicine and are still vomiting, you may need to try a different medicine.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking and being around smoke can make nausea worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Eating and drinking

  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water, electrolyte replacement drinks (such as Pedialyte and Rehydralyte), and other clear liquids. You may also try fruit juices, flavored ice pops, and broths. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks. When you don't feel like eating a meal, try apple or grape juice, weak teas, clear broths, dry toast, cooked cereal, or gelatin dessert. Avoid citrus juices and lemonade.
  • Make the most of the days when your appetite is good. Ask friends and family to help you shop and cook. Have meals delivered to your home.
  • Try frequent, small portions of meal supplements, such as Ensure, to get extra calories and protein. Try different kinds to find out which ones you like. Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian can help. They may have samples for you to try.
  • Don't force yourself to eat when you feel sick. Limit sounds, sights, and smells that make you feel sick.
  • Try eating food cool, cold, or at room temperature.
  • Have peppermint candy or peppermint gum handy. It can help settle your stomach.
  • Eat a light meal or snack before your chemotherapy so that you have something in your stomach. If your chemo takes several hours, bring a light meal or snacks.

More ways to care for yourself

  • Ask your doctor about other ways that you may find relief, such as:
    • Medical marijuana. It can be used to treat nausea and loss of appetite from cancer treatments. But in some states, it's illegal.
    • Acupuncture, progressive muscle relaxation, or biofeedback.
    • Keeping a journal of your symptoms. Make sure to include the specific symptoms you have, the time of day, how long they last, and any foods or activities that seem to make them worse. This journal may help your doctor prescribe medicines to control your symptoms.

Nausea from cancer treatment: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You can't keep down fluids or medicines.
  • You think you are dehydrated.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have nausea and vomiting that doesn't go away after you take anti-nausea medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.