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Abdominal or pelvic radiotherapy side effects: sickness and weight loss

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This page tells you about feeling sick during or after radiotherapy to the pelvic area or tummy (abdomen). There is information about

 

Sickness during pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the pelvic area or tummy (abdomen) area can make you feel sick. You may 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 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 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. Below 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 may 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 may sometimes be easier to face than a full meal
  • You can also 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
  • If you can, ask someone else to make your meals for you
  • Try eating small meals or snacks more often rather than large meals
  • 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. Or you can try eating ginger biscuits or sipping ginger ale.

 

Weight loss

If you have sickness or problems eating, you may begin to lose weight. You may 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. 

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

 

Where to get more information

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 abdominal or pelvic 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