Dealing With Nausea

James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Nausea is a common side effect of cancer treatment. It can be stimulated by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or the cancer itself. Patients typically develop aversions to certain foods and strong aromas frequently trigger nausea. Large amounts of food can make someone anxious and subsequently nauseated. The idea of sitting at a table for a large meal three times a day can become a chore.

Fortunately nausea can be managed through a combination of medications and behavioral changes. Medications such as Zofran, Kytril, Compazine, Decadron, and Metaclopramide may be prescribed by your physician to help control nausea. The medication will be chosen on an individual basis depending on your situation. Always follow the specific recommendations of your physician on taking these medications as they may cause other side effects.

What you eat, the way you eat, and how you eat may all cause nausea. Here are some simple recommendations to help prevent and control nausea:
  • Eat small, frequent meals (5-6), instead of 3 large meals each day
  • Eat the largest meal at a time of day when you are least nauseated (morning for many people)
  • Avoid sweet, spicy, fatty, or fried foods
  • Eat and drink slowly, chew food thoroughly so it is easily digestible
  • Fresh vegetables should be cooked rather than eaten raw
  • Consider shakes or liquid nutritional supplements such as Ensure®, Carnation®, and Sustacal® to help maintain your nutrition
  • Avoid aromas by eating meals cold or at room temperature
  • Enlist friends and family members to cook so you can avoid aromas in the kitchen
  • Eat dry, bland foods such as crackers or toast before meals
  • Rest in a chair after eating, avoid reclining as this may trigger reflux, nausea and vomiting
  • Aerobic exercise may decrease the nausea associated with chemotherapy
  • Anticipatory nausea associated with chemotherapy is best controlled with relaxation techniques
  • If nausea hits:
    • Take deep breaths and relax
    • Chew ice chips until nausea has passed
    • Sip small quantities of a clear "flat" soda (such as ginger ale)
    • As you feel better, gradually add other foods back into your diet

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