Dealing With Cancer-Related Nausea

Cancer and Nausea

The American Cancer Society estimates 1,268,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. Among men the most common types are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. The leading types of cancer in women are breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.

A common side effect of cancer treatment is nausea. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and biological therapy can all cause some degree of nausea. Some patients also develop a condition called anticipatory nausea. Patients learn to associate certain smells, sights, or sounds with treatment (such as intravenous chemotherapy). Those stimuli triggers can nausea before a treatment session begins.

Severe nausea can greatly interfere with a cancer patient's life, making it hard to care for family members or keep up with work demands. Some patients also develop vomiting with the nausea, which can lead to dehydration and malnourishment. Patients with frequent nausea and vomiting may even refuse or delay treatment.

Dealing With Cancer-Related Nausea

Doctors say nausea and vomiting in cancer patients can often be controlled. Dietary changes may be helpful for some. Patients are generally advised to eat smaller, more frequent meals and to stay away from sweet, fried, or fatty foods. If smells trigger nausea, cancer patients should let someone else do the cooking, or eat foods that don't need to be cooked, such as sandwiches. Relaxation exercises can reduce nausea for some people. Others find distraction techniques (such as talking with a friend or watching television) helpful. In severe cases, doctors can prescribe medications to reduce vomiting, but these drugs may not work as well for nausea.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are studying other ways to reduce nausea in cancer patients. The techniques are based on the Chinese theory of acupuncture. (In traditional acupuncture, nausea is relieved by placing needles along certain points on the inside of the wrist.) In one study, doctors give patients special bracelets, called "C-Bands", that apply pressure on the wrists at acupuncture sites. Another study is looking at a watch-like device called the ReliefBand®, which emits a gentle electrical stimulation to a point on the wrist. The stimulation band is being tested specifically for breast cancer patients, who (as a group) tend to be at higher risk for cancer-related nausea.


Information about the ReliefBand® is available from the manufacturer at

For general information on nausea and vomiting in cancer patients: American Cancer Society, contact your local chapter or visit their website at

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National Cancer Institute, Office of Communications, 31 Center Drive, MSC-2580, Bethesda, MD 20892-2580,, (800) 4-CANCER