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Frequent vomiting can be dangerous because it can lead to dehydration. It can also lead to inhaling food or liquids, which can cause choking and other problems.
Be sure to tell your cancer care team if you have nausea or are vomiting because there are medicines that can help. These medicines should be taken on a regular schedule, or as needed, as prescribed by your doctor. And if a certain drug doesn’t work, your cancer care team may be able to recommend another one. It may take a few tries to find the medicines that work best for you. Talk with your cancer care team about what's causing your nausea and vomiting and what you can do about it.
Anti-nausea and vomiting drugs (anti-emetics) are the main treatments for nausea and vomiting, but some non-drug treatments can also be used. These involve using your mind and body with the help of a qualified therapist.
Non-drug treatments may be used alone for mild nausea, and are often helpful for anticipatory nausea and vomiting. These methods can be used with anti-nausea and vomiting medicines for a person whose cancer treatment is likely to cause nausea and vomiting. If you’d like to try one or more of these methods, ask a member of your cancer care team if the methods are safe for you and to refer you to a therapist trained in these techniques.
These methods try to decrease nausea and vomiting by:
Below are some non-drug methods that have helped some people. Most of them have few or no side effects. Before using any of these treatments, check with your cancer care team to see if they are safe for you. Ask your cancer care team what non-drug treatments they may have available and which ones they can recommend.
Hypnosis can be used to make behavior changes to control nausea and vomiting. It creates a state of intense attention, willingness, and readiness to accept an idea. It is done by a trained specialist.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation (focusing the mind), breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing the muscles) can help decrease nausea and vomiting.
Biofeedback helps people reach a state of relaxation. It uses monitoring devices to help people gain conscious control over physical processes that are usually controlled automatically. Using biofeedback, a person learns to control a certain physical response of the body, such as nausea and vomiting. This is done by tuning in to the moment-to-moment body changes that are linked to the physical response. For example, biofeedback can be used to prevent skin temperature changes, such as those that often happen before nausea and vomiting starts. Biofeedback alone has not been found to work as well as for nausea and vomiting as the combination of biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation.
Guided imagery lets people mentally remove themselves from the treatment center and imagine that they are in a place that’s relaxing for them. The place can be a vacation spot, a room at home, or some other safe or pleasant place. While trying to imagine what they usually feel, hear, see, and taste in the pleasant place, some people can mentally block the nausea and vomiting.
Systematic desensitization helps people learn how to imagine an anxiety-producing situation (such as nausea and vomiting) and reduce the anxiety related to the situation. In most cases, what a person can imagine without anxiety, they can then experience in the real world without anxiety.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique in which very thin needles are put into the skin. There are a number of different acupuncture techniques, including some that use pressure rather than needles (acupressure). Acupuncture or acupressure can help with nausea.
Specially trained health professionals use music to help promote healing.. Music therapists may use different methods with each person, depending on that person’s needs and abilities. There’s some evidence that, when used with standard treatment, music therapy can help to reduce nausea and vomiting due to chemo.
Foods that may cause problems
Boiled or baked meat, fish, and poultry; cold meat or fish salad
Well cooked eggs
Cream soups made with low-fat milk
Juice-type commercial protein supplements (for example, Ensure Clear) blended with ice and eaten with a spoon
Fatty and fried meats, like sausage or bacon
Milk shakes (unless made with low-fat milk and ice cream)
Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta
Saltines, soda crackers, bread, toast, pretzels, cold cereal, English muffins, bagels
Plain noodles, white rice
Doughnuts, pastries, waffles, pancakes, muffins
Fruits and vegetables
Potatoes (baked, boiled, or mashed)
Canned or fresh fruits, vegetables as tolerated (do not eat if appetite is poor or nausea is severe)
Potato chips, fried potatoes such as french fries or hash browns
Breaded, fried, or creamed vegetables; vegetables with strong odor
Drinks, desserts, and other foods
Ginger ale, cold fruit drinks, caffeine-free and noncarbonated soft drinks such as fruit punch and sport drinks, caffeine-free iced tea
Sherbet, fruit-flavored gelatin
Angel food cake, sponge cake; vanilla wafers
Pudding made with low-fat milk
Popsicles, juice bars, fruit ices
Salt, cinnamon, spices as tolerated
Pie, ice cream, rich cakes
Spicy salad dressings
Pepper, chili powder, onion, hot sauce, seasoning mixtures
*Adapted from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2013
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Brant JM, Stringer LH. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. In Brown CG, ed. At. Guide to Oncology Symptom Management. 2nd ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2015: 171-196
Figueroa-Moseley C, Jean-Pierre P, Roscoe JA, Ryan JL, Kohli S, Palesh OG, Ryan EP, Carroll J, Morrow GR. Behavioral interventions in treating anticipatory nausea and vomiting. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 2007; 5(1): 44-50.
Kravitz, KG. Hypnosis for the management of anticipatory nausea and vomiting. Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology. 2015; 6(3):225-229.
National Cancer Institute (NIH). Treatment-related nausea and vomiting (PDQ®)- Health Professional Version. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/nausea/nausea-hp-pdq on September 6, 2019.
National Cancer Institute (NIH). Nausea and vomiting in people with cancer. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/nausea on September 9, 2019.
Last Revised: September 10, 2020
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