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Food and Cancer: feeling sick and vomiting
Feeling sick (nausea), with or without vomiting, may occur as a side effect of cancer or its treatment. Vomiting sometimes follows nausea and may be brought on by treatment, food odours, gas in the stomach or bowel, or motion sickness. For some people, just the thought of treatment makes them feel unwell.
If vomiting persists after a day or two, contact your doctor.
How to cope with nausea
If nausea and vomiting are a problem try some of these ideas:
- Eat small meals often. Not eating can make nausea worse.
- Try a small snack such as dry crackers or toast if you wake up feeling sick.
- Eat and drink slowly. Chew food well.
- Try sour or salty foods such as dry savoury biscuits and potato crisps. Fizzy drinks are also good; try bitter lemon flavoured drinks, dry ginger ale, ginger beer or cola drinks.
- Eat cold foods ?- such as sandwiches, cold meat, salads and cold milk puddings - which are often easier to manage than fried, greasy and spicy foods.
- Avoid strong odours and cooking smells.
- Talk to your doctor about medication to relieve the nausea.
How to cope with vomiting
Take regular anti-nausea/anti-vomiting medication as prescribed by your doctor. If you can, avoid situations that make you feel nauseated and lead to vomiting.
After vomiting, treat your empty, irritated stomach gently to get it back to normal. You can do this in stages:
- If persistent vomiting occurs, 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. Sucking a hard sweet, flavoured ice chips or an ice block may also help.
- If you can't keep fluids down, and vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, see your doctor because you may become dehydrated.
- If your vomiting is controlled but you still feel nauseated and full, it is important to eat small, frequent meals. Hunger 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 spoon 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.
- When you feel you can drink fluids without discomfort, eat small amounts of solid foods such as plain dry biscuits, toast or bread with honey, jam, Vegemite or Marmite. Try jelly, 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 or junket, which are more easily digested. Plain junket or a junket drink is particularly settling.
- Have food in small amounts and have something to eat or drink at regular intervals. Continue to sip dry ginger ale or other drinks but don't drink more than a few sips with your meals to leave enough space for food.
As soon as you can, increase your food until you are eating a normal well-balanced diet. Your doctor or dietician may advise you to take additional nourishment (perhaps supplements) on your good days to make up for those times when you may not be able to eat properly.
You may find the following foods difficult to tolerate and it is best to limit them:
- 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
- Potatoes cooked in fat, roast potatoes or potato chips
- Fresh bread, hot scones, pastry, rich cakes, cream cakes or hot buttered toast
- Chocolate biscuits, chocolate-coated nuts or peanut butter
- Filling foods such as pasta, especially if served with spicy or oily sauces
- Rich soups with cream or fat.