Nausea and Vomiting (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information

Nausea and vomiting are serious side effects of cancer therapy.

Nausea is an unpleasant wavelike feeling in the back of the throat and/or stomach that may lead to vomiting. Vomiting is throwing up the contents of the stomach through the mouth. Retching is the movement of the stomach and esophagus without vomiting and is also called dry heaves. Although treatments have improved, nausea and vomiting are still serious side effects of cancer therapy. Some patients are bothered more by nausea than by vomiting.

Nausea and vomiting must be controlled to maintain the patient's treatment and quality of life.

It is very important to prevent and control nausea and vomiting in patients with cancer, so that they can continue treatment and perform activities of daily life. Uncontrolled nausea and vomiting can cause the following:

  • Chemical changes in the body.
  • Mental changes.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Dehydration.
  • A torn esophagus.
  • Broken bones.
  • Reopening of surgical wounds.

There are four types of nausea and vomiting that are caused by cancer therapy:

  • Anticipatory.
  • Acute.
  • Delayed.
  • Chronic.

Anticipatory nausea and vomiting: If a patient has had nausea and vomiting after the previous three or four chemotherapy treatments, he or she may have anticipatory nausea and vomiting. The smells, sights, and sounds of the treatment room may remind the patient of previous times and may trigger nausea and vomiting before a new cycle of chemotherapy has even begun.

Acute nausea and vomiting: Usually happen within 24 hours after beginning chemotherapy

Delayed nausea and vomiting: Happen more than 24 hours after chemotherapy. Also called late nausea and vomiting.

Chronic nausea and vomiting: In patients with advanced cancer, chronic nausea and vomiting may be caused by the following:

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute
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