Cancer treatment and nausea and vomiting

Feeling sick (nausea), with or without vomiting, is a possible side effect of cancer or its treatment. Vomiting sometimes follows nausea and may be brought on by treatment, stress, food odours, gas in the stomach or bowel, or motion sickness. The following information may help:

Stage 1 Small sips

If you have persistent vomiting, don’t try to force food down. Sip small amounts of liquid as often as possible. Try dry ginger ale, cold flat lemonade, soda water, Lucozade or chilled tomato juice. You might also find it helpful to suck a hard lolly, flavoured crushed ice cubes or an iceblock. If you can’t keep fluids down, and vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, see your doctor because you may become dehydrated.

Stage 2 Introduce drinks slowly

If your vomiting has stopped, but you still feel nauseated and full, it is important to eat small, frequent meals. Hunger, or an empty stomach, can aggravate or prolong nausea. Start by drinking cold or iced drinks. Make up drinks that are half milk (or skim milk) and half water (or soda water). These mixtures are surprisingly settling and soothing. If you like sweet drinks, try a spoonful of ice cream in a glass of lemonade. You can also try diluted fruit drinks, Bonox, clear broth and weak tea. Jellies can be satisfying too.

Stage 3 Introduce solid foods

When you feel you can drink without discomfort, eat small amounts of solid foods, such as plain dry biscuits, toast or bread with honey, jam, Vegemite or Marmite. Try jelly and cooked cereals (such as lemon sago or boiled rice), and then try soft stewed fruits, such as apples, pears or peaches. Start drinking milk gradually and in small amounts, or try yoghurt, which is more easily digested. Have food in small amounts and have something to eat or drink at regular intervals.

Stage 4 Return to normal diet

As soon as you can, increase your food intake until your eating returns to a good level. Your doctor or dietitian may advise you to take additional nourishment (perhaps supplements) on your good days to make up for the days when you can’t eat properly.You may find the following foods difficult to tolerate when nauseous, so you may need to limit them (however it’s sometimes trial and error):

  • • fatty or fried foods such as meats, fish, eggs or spicy stews and casseroles
  • full–cream milk, cream, strong cheese, dripping, lard, oils, dressings or mayonnaise
  • rich soup with cream or fat
  • potatoes cooked in fat, roast potatoes or potato chips
  • scones, pastry, rich cakes or cream cakes
  • chocolate biscuits, chocolate–coated nuts or peanut butter
  • filling foods, such as pasta, especially with spicy or oily sauces.
This information was last reviewed in June 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Jenelle Loeliger, Head – Nutrition Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Aigner, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline ACT; Ian Anderson, Consumer; Anna Boltong, PhD Candidate (Dietitian), Department of Cancer Experiences Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Bridget Kehoe, Public Health Coordinator (Nutrition and Physical Activity), Cancer Council QLD; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA; and Roswitha Stegmann, Helpline Nurse, Cancer Council WA.

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