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Sickness after chest radiotherapy

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This page tells you about feeling sick during or after chest radiotherapy. There is information about


Sickness during chest radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the chest can make you feel sick (nausea) if the treatment area is close to the stomach. The sickness is usually mild but some people find that they are actually sick. This may last for a few weeks after the treatment has finished. Medicines, diet, and sometimes complementary therapies can help to control sickness. The sickness may be worse if you are having chemotherapy at the same time as the radiotherapy.


Medicines for sickness

The sickness can usually be well controlled with medicines. Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) or specialist 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 or an hour before each radiotherapy session.

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

If your anti sickness tablets don't seem to help, make sure you go back to your doctor or specialist nurse and tell them. There are lots of different anti sickness medicines 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 may 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 their nausea. Others have found that hypnotherapy and acupuncture can help, especially if the very thought of having treatment makes you sick (anticipatory nausea and vomiting).

Acupressure bracelets (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 may 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
  • Supplementary nutritional drinks may be easier to face than a full meal
  • You can drink nutritional drink supplements 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 finishes
  • It is important to drink plenty of fluid even if you don't feel like eating
  • Avoid doing too much around the time of your radiotherapy treatment – you may need to rest more than usual
  • Try sipping fizzy drinks

Some people find ginger very good for reducing nausea. If you like ginger, try it 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

You may begin to lose weight if you feel sick or have problems eating. You may also feel tired and weak. Sometimes you may not feel like eating at all. The dietician or your doctor can give you advice if eating is a problem.


Where to get more information

We have information about diet problems and cancer. And our coping with cancer reading list includes details of books and booklets about diet for cancer patients, some of which are free.

We have detailed information about external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy in this section. 

There is also detailed information about the side effects of radiotherapy.

We have pages about the other side effects of chest radiotherapy, including

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 12 May 2014