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Treating Nausea and Vomiting From Chemotherapy - Topic Overview

It's common to feel sick to your stomach (nauseated) or to vomit when you get chemotherapy. Nausea and vomiting are caused by cancer drugs you may get during treatment. You may feel sick or vomit soon after your treatment session. But with some chemotherapy medicines, you may not get sick until days later. Some people have only nausea or only vomiting. Others have both. Some people don't get sick at all from chemotherapy.

There are many drugs that can prevent nausea and vomiting. Preventing nausea and vomiting will help calm your stomach so you can eat, stay strong, and give your body a chance to rest between cancer treatments.

Antinausea drugs work best if you start taking them before you start chemotherapy.

What causes nausea and vomiting?

Doctors don't know exactly why cancer drugs cause nausea and vomiting. Some drugs affect the parts of the nervous system that trigger nausea. Other drugs can irritate your stomach lining and make you feel sick.

How big a dose you get can also affect how you feel. A drug may be fine at a low dose. At a higher dose, it may make you sick. But that higher dose may be what's needed to kill cancer cells.

The way you receive a drug can also make a difference. A drug that is given through your vein in an IV may make you feel sick sooner than the same drug given as a pill. That's because your body will absorb the IV drug faster.

What will increase your risk for nausea and vomiting?

There are more than 100 different drugs to treat cancer. Some are much more likely to cause nausea and vomiting than others. You and your doctor will decide which cancer drugs you will get based on the type of cancer you have, where the cancer is in your body, and how serious the cancer is (its stage).

Other things besides cancer drugs can raise your risk for nausea and vomiting. If you had chemotherapy before and it led to vomiting, your brain will remember it. So just thinking about your cancer treatment can make you feel sick. This is called anticipatory vomiting. But antinausea medicine can help you control this feeling so that you can get through chemotherapy.

How are nausea and vomiting treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent nausea and vomiting. Your doctor will look at which cancer drugs you are taking and your history of getting sick. You will probably be given a medicine that works to control nausea and vomiting in other people who are getting the same cancer treatment. You may be given two or three medicines to take.

Antinausea medicines are usually taken as pills. But you might also get them through an IV or as a patch that's taped to your skin. These medicines are usually given before your first chemotherapy session. You will need to take antinausea medicine as long as your cancer treatments last.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 24, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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