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Cancer and Nausea

Many cancer patients, especially those being treated with chemotherapy, are susceptible to nausea and vomiting. Radiation therapy targeted at the brain, stomach, bowel, or close to the liver can also induce nausea, as can certain hormonal therapies and morphine-based painkillers [i].

Patients are usually given anti-nausea medications proactively to prevent the nausea associated with treatments.

In addition to medication-related triggers, there are certain risk factors that may make some patients more likely to experience nausea: women; patients younger than 50; history of nausea, motion sickness, or morning sickness during pregnancy; high anxiety; and a history of little to no alcohol consumption [ii].

Severe nausea and vomiting can contribute to malnutrition and weight loss and, as such, is a side effect of treatment that needs to be addressed proactively and aggressively. Severe malnutrition, or cachexia, is a serious risk for cancer patients and prevention is the best treatment.


Manage it

There are a variety of both natural and medicinal strategies for treating nausea that include both use of anti-nausea prescription medications as well as more natural treatments. It is important to address nausea with your healthcare team before treatment and during treatment, especially if it is not well-controlled. In addition, it is important to consult with your physician and integrative oncology care team if you are pursuing alternative therapies such as the use of ginger or acupuncture.


  1. Natural nausea treatments – There are several nutrition and lifestyle solutions to cancer-related nausea as detailed below.
  2. Eating small, frequent meals – Try to eat many smaller meals or snacks throughout the day rather than three large meals, including one light meal several hours before treatment.
  3. Eat the foods that most appeal to you – Find recipes designed to combat nausea in The Meals to Heal Cookbook.
  4. Avoid cooking while feeling nauseous – Cook and freeze meals ahead of time, have healthy frozen meals available, or have a caregiver prepare meals.
  5. Avoid unpleasant or nausea-triggering smells – Eating warm or cool foods rather than hot foods may decrease odors.
  6. Avoid sugary, fatty, and fried foods
  7. Stay hydrated – Drink cool or cold beverages like water, unsweetened fruit juice, peppermint tea, flat ginger ale (carbonation may cause gastrointestinal distress) or ginger tea.  Sip drinks slowly and in small amounts throughout the day.  Avoid drinking a large volume of liquid before eating a meal.
  8. Stay comfortable – Rest after each meal, try to avoid lying down for several hours after eating, and wear loose-fitting clothing.
  9. Stay Well – Try acupuncture and relaxation activities like meditation, soothing music, deep breathing exercises. These can all decrease nausea and anxiety.


[i] “Controlling nausea and vomiting (anti-emetic therapy).” MacMillan Cancer Support. http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Symptomssideeffects/Othersymptomssideeffects/Nauseavomiting.aspx  July 25, 2012.
[ii] Mayo Clinic staff. “Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense.” Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer/CA00030/  July 25, 2012.
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.


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