Managing Treatments

Dealing With Chemo Nausea During Your Cancer Treatment

Chemo nausea can come out of nowhere, but it's hard to be prepared for it. You can manage it with some strategy steps and by talking to your treatment team about your concerns.

One of the most difficult parts of your cancer diagnosis is undergoing your treatment. While cancer treatments have gotten infinitely more complex and targeted, chemotherapy still causes a tremendous amount of side effects. It can cause nerve damage and can be toxic to your heart, lungs and kidneys. The most annoying side effect, however, is chemo nausea. Fortunately, there are multiple effective medications and alternative therapies that can help mitigate your nausea as you go through cancer treatment.

What Causes Nausea During Chemotherapy?

Chemo nausea can be caused by many factors. As the American Cancer Society explains, cancer itself can cause it, especially if it’s located in your brain or gastrointestinal tract. Many chemotherapy drugs cause nausea, as well as radiation therapy. Scientists think this is caused by receptors in your brain and esophagus that are stimulated by the nausea-inducing agent, causing a vomiting pathway to be activated. You may be more vulnerable to getting nauseous if you’re a young female or have a high degree of anxiety at baseline. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network also says that if you are prone to motion sickness, had a lot of nausea during pregnancy and/or don’t drink alcohol frequently, you might be more prone to getting woozy from chemotherapy. As always, inform your doctor of any side effects to treatment so modifications can be made when necessary.

What Treatments Are Available?

The National Cancer Institute lists multiple effective drugs that are available to combat your chemo nausea. They act on different pathways in your body. Some of the most common, ondansetron or promethazine, can be given intravenously, which is helpful if you’re vomiting and can’t keep food down. Many times these medications can be given before each chemotherapy dose to try to prevent nausea.

Sometimes nausea will creep up on you with little to no warning. While sub-lingual or dissolving tablets of certain nausea medications are available for fast-acting relief, there are times when medications won’t help. If you are prone to sudden episodes of severe nausea with vomiting, minimize the embarrasment when you’re in public by looking around for the closest trash can and bathroom. Add additional trash cans to your house so there’s one in each room and have a trash can close to your cubicle at work that’s designated only for when nausea hits. You can also carry some paper bags (like an airplane vomit bag) in your purse or car in case you can’t get to a can or toilet.

How Can You Minimize Your Nausea?

As the Mayo Clinic suggests, there are many strategies you can apply to try to minimize your nausea. Eating small meals that are not sweet, fried or fatty is a good start. Try to eat more frequently instead of having three big meals a day. Planning your meals and snacks can help you deal with this adjustment, as well as having bland foods like crackers and rice constantly in your cupboard. Drinking lots of cool beverages may help as well. Resting, sitting upright and deep breathing techniques are also recommended after eating. Thus, after each meal, make a habit to sit up straight in your chair and take five deep breaths.

Using these techniques coupled with effective anti-nausea medications can drastically reduce your discomfort while undergoing your chemotherapy. You may not be able to avoid these stomach problems, but you could make your life during treatment a tad easier.

Larry Istrail
Larry Istrail