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Practical Tips for People with Cancer Who Are Experiencing Nausea or Have Lost Their Appetite

By Cancer Care, Inc.

A common complaint people undergoing cancer treatment have is that they feel nauseated, sometimes severely so. Depending on the type of treatment you are receiving, you may experience this yourself, especially if you are undergoing chemotherapy, which often reacts with the cells that line your stomach, making you feel ill. Other symptoms you may experience include a feeling of fullness, a change in the way foods taste, very strong heartburn, or feeling generally too tired to prepare a meal.

The good news is that, in addition to anti-nausea drugs that relieve some of the most severe symptoms, there are also a number of things that you can do on your own to help relieve an upset stomach during your treatment. This article will offer you tips on how to counter nausea and maintain a healthy diet during cancer treatment.

Relieving Nausea

These simple steps can often go far in helping you cope with the nausea associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

  • Get plenty of rest. (Some anti-nausea drugs are actually designed to make you sleepy, so you can rest more easily.)
  • Relax and try to distract yourself with television, radio, or other activities you enjoy.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn't bind or add stress to your body.
  • Rinse your mouth often (to eliminate the bad taste) and avoid strong foods or odors, which can bring on nausea.

If You Have Just Had a Bout of Nausea and Vomiting:

  • Try taking small sips of fluids or sucking on ice chips an hour or so after being sick. This helps settle your stomach.
  • Eating crackers or toast may help. Because they are mild, these types of foods can put something back into your stomach, usually without causing upset.
  • Having someone stay with you can give you the gentle encouragement you need to relax and help settle your stomach.

Increasing Your Appetite

Even if you are not feeling nauseated, you may not want to eat. However, it is very important to maintain a nutritious diet if you have cancer, particularly if you are undergoing treatment. Remember that eating right is not just to make you feel better, it is also important for your health and recovery. We suggest these tips to help you eat:

  • Make the atmosphere more pleasant during mealtime by using colorful place settings, flowers, or background music.
  • Vary the color of the foods you prepare and try to arrange the plate attractively. Garnish the food to make it more appealing to the eye.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day rather than two or three big meals. Divide a regular three-meal schedule into six to eight smaller ones.
  • Have snacks between meals.
  • Establish a pattern of eating meals and snacks at the same time each day. Stick to this schedule, even when you are not hungry.
  • Keep snacks handy for nibbling. People tend to eat more when food is readily available.
  • Rely on foods you really like at times when your appetite is not good.
  • Have high calorie, high protein drinks when you cannot eat your food.
  • Prepare foods that have a pleasant aroma. This can help stimulate your appetite.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

While controversy exists over whether special "anti-cancer diets" actually help people with cancer fight the disease, there is a general consensus within the medical community that eating well will help in your efforts to recover. What most people lack when they are ill is not advice, but an appetite. Remember: If you are nauseated, ask your doctor about anti-nausea drugs and follow the suggestions in this article.

This article brought to you by Cancer Care. For more information see the Cancer Care web site http://www.cancercare.org or contact them directly at 1-800-813-HOPE.

Cancer Care, Inc. Cancer Care Briefs: Practical Tips for People with Cancer Who Are Experiencing Nausea or Have Lost Their Appetite, 1998. (Online) http://www.cancercare.org/patients/practical.htm Cancer Care, Inc.

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