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Stomach 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 stomach or abdomen (pelvic radiotherapy). There is information about


Sickness during pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the stomach or 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) 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 an hour before they have their radiotherapy every day.

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 which would be best for you.

If the anti sickness tablets you are given do not 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.

Some people find ginger very good for reducing nausea. If you really like ginger, try it in whatever 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 sipping ginger ale. Fizzy drinks can relieve nausea too.

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
  • Avoid doing too much around the time of your radiotherapy treatment – you may need to rest
  • If you can, ask someone else to make your meals for you
  • Try eating small meals or snacks more often rather than large meals

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 be given a special liquid feed into the bloodstream through a drip into a vein.


Where to get more information

There is information about diet problems and cancer in the section about coping physically with cancer. And there are details of books and booklets about diet for cancer patients on our cancer and treatment reading list, some of which are free.

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Updated: 4 July 2012