Decorative image

Other causes of sickness

There are things other than cancer or cancer treatment that can make you feel sick.

Smell

Both pleasant and unpleasant smells can trigger sickness. You might find that it helps to remove strong smelling flowers from around you, and to ask friends and relatives not to wear perfume.

Try eating cold foods if the smell of food makes you feel sick. Or get someone else to cook for you if you can.

Taste

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. Your taste could be affected if sickness is related to your treatment. 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 (25%) 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. Discuss your feelings with your doctor or specialist nurse as they can help you with your anxiety or depression.

Pain

Being in a lot of pain can also make you feel or be sick. The sickness will go away when you treat the pain. 

Movement or travel

Motion sickness (travel sickness) 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 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). It is important to see your doctor if your sickness lasts for longer.

You must contact your hospital treatment team straight away 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.

Hunger

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.

Bowel problems

Both constipation and diarrhoea can make you feel or be sick. Treating the cause will reduce the sickness. 

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 could 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. 

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 if you develop anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

Other medical conditions

Other medical conditions can make you feel or be sick.

These include:

  • vertigo
  • migraine
  • stomach ulcers
  • heart problems
  • diabetes
Last reviewed: 
21 Jan 2015
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser 
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, S Hellman, SA Rosenberg, TS Lawrence
    Lipincott Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder in oncological, haematological, and palliative-care settings: a meta-analysis of 94 interview-based studies.

    AJ Mitchell and others

    The Lancet Oncology, 2011

    Volume 12, Issue 2

  • Symptom management in advanced cancer (4th edition)
    R Twycross, A Wilcock and S Toller
    Radcliffe Medical Press Ltd, 2009

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.