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Brain radiotherapy and sickness

Feeling sick is a common side effect of radiotherapy treatment to the brain. You might feel sick during and after treatment.

Sickness during brain radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the lower part of the brain can make you feel sick (nausea). Very occasionally, the treatment might actually make you sick afterwards. This might happen more than an hour after the treatment session. 

The sickness might last for a few weeks after the treatment has finished. Medicines, diet, and sometimes complementary therapies can help to control sickness.

Medicines for sickness

Sickness can usually be well controlled with medicines. Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) can prescribe anti sickness tablets (anti emetics) for you to take. Some people find that they can manage by taking an anti sickness tablet about 20 to 60 minutes before having treatment.

Other people find they manage better by taking anti sickness tablets regularly throughout the day during their course of treatment. You can discuss which would be best for you with your radiotherapy staff.

If your anti sickness tablets don't seem to help, make sure you go back to your radiotherapy team. There are lots of different anti sickness medicines and sometimes it takes a couple of 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

Various complementary therapies are used by people with cancer to help control nausea and vomiting. 

Some people find that relaxation techniques such as visualisation help to reduce their 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 or Seabands press on acupuncture points in the wrist and might 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. 

Last reviewed: 
14 Mar 2016
  • Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer
    Anti emetic guidelines - accessed April 2015

  • 2016 MASCC and ESMO guideline update for the prevention of chemotherapy- and radiotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and of nausea and vomiting in advanced cancer patients
    F Roila and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016, 27 (Supplement 5): pages 119–v133

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium
    Accessed June 2015

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