Decorative image

Abdominal or pelvic radiotherapy side effects: sickness and weight loss

Information on how to cope with feeling sick during or after radiotherapy to the pelvic area or tummy (abdomen).

Sickness during pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the pelvic area or tummy (abdomen) area can make you feel sick. You might actually vomit. This may last for a few weeks after the treatment has finished.

Medicines, diet, and sometimes complementary therapies can help to control sickness.

Medicines for sickness

The sickness can usually be well controlled with medicines. Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) or nurse can prescribe some anti sickness tablets (anti emetics) for you to take. Most people find they can manage by taking an anti sickness tablet about 20 minutes to an hour before they have each radiotherapy session.

Other people find they manage better by taking anti sickness tablets regularly throughout the day while they are going through a course of treatment. You can discuss with your doctor or nurse which would be best for you.

If the anti sickness tablets don't seem to help, make sure you go back to your doctor or specialist nurse and tell them straight away. There are lots of different anti sickness drugs and sometimes it takes a few tries to find the one that suits you.

Anti sickness medicines can often greatly reduce sickness. But other methods, such as complementary therapies or changing your diet might also help.

Complementary therapies for sickness

A number of different types of complementary therapies are used by people with cancer to help control nausea and vomiting. 

Some people find that using relaxation techniques such as visualisation helps to reduce nausea. Others have found that hypnotherapy and acupuncture can help, especially if the very thought of having treatment makes you sick. This is called anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

Acupressure bracelets such as Seabands press on acupuncture points in the wrist and may help to reduce nausea for some people.

Diet tips for sickness

What you eat can play an important part in helping to control feeling and being sick.

Here are some tips that might be helpful:

  • Avoid eating or preparing food when you feel sick.
  • Avoid fried foods, fatty foods or foods with a strong smell.
  • Eat cold or slightly warm food if the smell of cooked or cooking food makes you feel sick.
  • Eat several small meals and snacks each day and chew your food well.
  • Have a small meal a few hours before treatment but not just before.
  • Drink lots of liquid, taking small sips slowly throughout the day.
  • Avoid filling your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating.
  • Eating fresh pineapple chunks can help to keep your mouth fresh and moist.
  • If you are worried about losing weight, ask your doctor to prescribe high calorie drinks.
  • Nutritional drinks might sometimes be easier to face than a full meal.
  • You can have nutritional drinks as well as meals for extra calories.
  • Don't give yourself a hard time if you really don't feel like eating – you can make up for lost calories after your treatment ends.
  • It is important to have plenty of fluids even if you don't feel like eating.
  • Ask someone else to make your meals for you, if you can.
  • Try eating small meals or snacks more often rather than large meals.
  • Try sipping fizzy drinks.
  • Eat dry crackers.

Some people find ginger very good for reducing nausea. You can try ginger in whichever way you prefer, for example as crystallised stem ginger. Freshly ground ginger can be added to your favourite foods or to hot water to make a soothing tea. You can buy ginger tea bags in supermarkets. Or you can try eating ginger biscuits or sipping ginger ale. 

Weight loss

If you have sickness or problems eating, you might begin to lose weight. You may feel tired and weak. Sometimes you may not feel like eating at all. The dietitian or your doctor can give you advice if eating is a problem. 

Very rarely people find that their weight keeps on falling. You might need to spend a short time in hospital and have liquid food through a fine tube called a nasogastric tube that goes up your nose and down into your stomach if this happens. Or you might have a special liquid feed into the bloodstream through a drip into a vein.

Last reviewed: 
22 Mar 2016
  • De Vita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (9th edition)
    De Vita, V.T., Lawrence, T.S. and Rosenberg S.A.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • New radiotherapy techniques do not reduce the need for nutrition intervention in patients with head and neck cancer. 
    T Brown and others.
    European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015.

  • Enteral feeding methods for nutritional management in patients with head and neck cancers being treated with radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. 
    B Nugent and others.
    Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2013.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.