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Control Chemotherapy Nausea & Vomiting

New drugs and alternative therapies can help reduce -- or eliminate -- chemotherapy side effects.

New Antinausea Drugs continued...

Russell says two new drugs are also helping. They are Emend (aprepitant) and Aloxi (palonosetron), a second generation 5HT3 antagonist. Both are given intravenously. Sancuso (granisetron), another 5HT3 antagonist, is a skin patch that is indicated for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomitin., Other types of drugs are also available.

Improvements in medications have made a big difference for patients. "Fifteen years ago, the drugs we had to control nausea just weren't that effective," says Escalante. "Many people had to be hospitalized during chemotherapy. The nausea and vomiting was that bad."

But now, most chemotherapy is done on an outpatient basis. That's partly due to the success of new antiemetics, Escalante says.

Behavioral Therapy and Alternative Treatments

Some alternative therapies may also help control nausea and vomiting, especially in addition to medicines. They include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure
  • Hypnosis
  • Muscle relaxation with guided imagery

"I have had a number of patients use acupuncture in addition to antiemetics," says Russell. "Some had a significant benefit." She urges people to talk to their doctors about new techniques if they feel their medicines aren't doing enough.

On the whole, Syrjala has no problem with alternative treatments like these, as long as the risks are low. But she and other experts warn against using herbs or supplements without talking to your doctor first.

"Herbs and supplements are real drugs," Syrjala says. "They can block the effects of your medication."

And Russell points out that no supplement has been proven to help. "Besides, if you're queasy, the last thing you want to do is pile more pills in your mouth," she says.

The Marijuana Debate

It's been long known that marijuana can soothe nausea. A synthetic version of the active ingredient in it, THC, is in the prescription drug, Marinol (dronabinol.)

But using marijuana raises some legal problems in most states, to say the least. Aside from those, Syrjala sees safety risks.

"You're ingesting something with unknown purity when your immune system is compromised," she says. "If you wind up inhaling a fungal agent, you won't have the immunity to fight it off."

But Russell says that marijuana can be an effective treatment.

"Obviously, I don't and can't prescribe marijuana," says Russell. "But it can relieve nausea." While she ideally doesn't want her patients smoking anything, she says that inhaled marijuana is a rapid and efficient drug delivery system.

"The most important thing is for people [to] get through their chemotherapy without nausea," Russell tells WebMD, "and they have to find the best way to do that."

Can Diet Help? Reducing Nausea With Food

There is no special chemotherapy diet. But experts say that foods that are spicy or strong smelling are more likely to cause nausea. While Syrjala says that bland diets are often easier to tolerate, everyone is different. You have to find the food choices that work for you.

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