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Of all the side effects of
chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting are two of the most distressing. But in many cases, nausea and vomiting can be controlled and even prevented.
The best way
to control nausea and vomiting is to begin treatment for it before you start
chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about your treatment plan. Find out
if the cancer drug you'll receive is likely to make you sick. Ask your
doctor what medicines are available to prevent nausea and vomiting. Talk about
your concerns, no matter how small. The more you know about your treatment, the
more you will feel in control and the easier it will be to talk about it with
your doctors and nurses.
Antinausea drugs are usually taken on a
regular daily schedule for as long as chemotherapy lasts. Sometimes you may be
asked to take the antinausea drug "only as needed." You may be given more than
one kind of antinausea drug. Drugs to relieve your nausea include ondansetron (Zofran) and
Antinausea drugs can be given as pills you swallow, through your vein (IV), or as shots. Some drugs are available as
suppositories, as capsules that melt in your mouth, or as a patch that is taped
to your skin.
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions for taking your antinausea medicines and to report back about how well they are
If you have nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy in
spite of taking antinausea drugs, tell your doctor immediately. A different
antinausea drug may be the answer. Or your chemotherapy drug may need to be
Marijuana, either in its natural form or as a
synthetic drug, has been shown to ease the nausea and vomiting caused by
chemotherapy. Although it worked better than many of the antinausea
drugs available in the past, it doesn't seem to work as well as other
medicines available today. And marijuana can cause
unpleasant side effects including dry mouth, low blood pressure, and dizziness,
especially in older people or people who haven't used it before. Also,
the legality of marijuana for medical use is still a question in many
Some doctors still use the synthetic form of marijuana
to treat nausea and vomiting. These drugs, such as dronabinol and nabilone, don't seem to work as well
as other drugs now available, but they may be helpful for certain
Although drugs are the main way to treat nausea and
vomiting, there are other treatments that have been shown to work well.1 They involve the help of a
qualified therapist who can teach you to use your mind and body to control
nausea and vomiting. These techniques help stop anticipatory nausea and
vomiting. They work by relaxing you, distracting your attention, helping you
feel in control, and making you feel less helpless. These treatments
have shown that
acupuncture is an effective treatment for nausea and
vomiting caused by chemotherapy.2 Your doctor may refer you to a qualified
You can also try
acupressure. Constant pressure on the P6 point is used
to prevent or reduce nausea. The P6 point is on the
inner side of your arm, in line with your middle finger. It is close to your
wrist, one-sixth of the distance between your wrist and elbow. You can press on
your arm with a thumb or finger or try wearing wristbands (such as Sea-Bands)
that press a plastic disc on the P6 point on each arm.
Eating well may seem to be an odd way to treat nausea and vomiting, but
it's very important. As a cancer patient, you need nutritious foods to help you
feel better, keep up your strength and energy, keep up your weight, and keep up
your ability to fight infection and recover as quickly as possible.
Here are some tips for eating well during chemotherapy:
National Cancer Institute (2013). Nausea and Vomiting PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/HealthProfessional.
National Cancer Institute (2011). Acupuncture PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/acupuncture/healthprofessional.
September 11, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
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