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Other causes of sickness

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This page tells you about things (other than the cancer or its treatment) that can make you feel sick. We have separate pages about how cancer can make you feel sick and how treatment can make you feel sick. This page has information about



Both pleasant and unpleasant smells can trigger sickness – for example, the smell of coffee, perfumes, cooking, flowers, cigarette smoke, petrol or cleaning products. You may find that it helps to remove strong smelling flowers from around you, and to ask friends and relatives not to wear perfume. If the smell of food makes you feel sick, try eating cold foods. Or get someone else to cook for you if you can.



The taste of some foods and drinks may make you feel or be sick. Strong tastes may be troublesome. You may find it helps to stick to bland foods.

If sickness is related to your treatment, your taste may be affected. This usually gets better after treatment has finished. Some people avoid their favourite foods and drinks during treatment periods in case they are put off them for good. Other people find that they start to like foods they have always disliked.


Anxiety, fear and depression

These feelings are very common in people with cancer. Up to a quarter of people with cancer become depressed. Feeling very frightened, anxious or depressed can affect the way your body works, and may make you feel or be sick. If you have these feelings, do discuss them with your doctor or specialist nurse – they may be able to help you with your anxiety or depression. There is information about dealing with anxiety and depression in our feelings and emotions section.



Being in a lot of pain can also make you feel or be sick. The sickness will go away when you treat the pain. There is more information about treating cancer pain in the pain control section.


Movement or travel

This is called motion sickness or travel sickness. It happens when the messages your brain receives from your eyes do not match those from the balance centre in your ear. This confusion can trigger the vomiting centre in your brain and make you feel or be sick. It often helps to face forward in the vehicle and look out of the window at a fixed point on the horizon. You can get drugs to prevent motion sickness on prescription from your GP and over the counter from the chemist. Some of these drugs can cause drowsiness, so you might want to check this with your doctor first.


Infections and food poisoning

An infection can make you feel or be sick. The sickness will usually stop when the infection is treated.

Infections picked up from food (food poisoning) usually last between 24 and 48 hours (1 to 2 full days). If it goes on any longer, it is important to see your doctor. Remember, if you are having chemotherapy treatment and your white blood cell count is low, and you have signs of infection such as a high temperature or are feeling unwell you must contact your hospital treatment team straight away.



Many of us have had that feeling of being so hungry you feel sick. Try to avoid this by eating small meals at regular times, and by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day. This is especially important if you are having any type of cancer treatment.


Bowel problems

Both constipation and diarrhoea can make you feel or be sick. Treating the cause will reduce the sickness. We have more information about bowel problems in our section about coping physically with cancer.


Sickness before treatment

Sickness before you have treatment is called anticipatory nausea and vomiting. It happens because you have bad memories of chemotherapy sickness in the past. You may be so worried about this that just thinking about treatment makes you sick. Some people are sick as they get to the hospital or when the nurse starts to set up the drip. 

If you develop anticipatory nausea and vomiting, your doctor or nurse will give you anti sickness tablets or anti anxiety drugs such as lorazepam to take before you go to hospital on treatment days. We have more information about coping with anticipatory nausea.


Other medical conditions

Other medical conditions can make you feel or be sick. These include vertigo, migraine, stomach ulcers, heart problems and diabetes.

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Updated: 26 January 2015