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Feeling sick

Feeling sick is a common side effect of radiotherapy treatment to the brain. You might feel sick during and after treatment. You take medicines to help with this.

Sickness during brain radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the brain can make you feel or be sick (nausea and vomiting). 

The sickness might last for a few weeks after the treatment has finished. Medicines, diet, and sometimes complementary therapies can help to control sickness.

Medicines for sickness

Anti sickness tablets

Sickness can usually be well controlled with medicines. Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) can prescribe anti sickness tablets (anti emetics) for you to take. Some people find that it helps to take an anti sickness tablet about 20 to 60 minutes before having treatment.

Other people find they manage better by taking anti sickness tablets regularly throughout the day during their course of treatment. You can discuss which would be best for you with your radiotherapy team.

If your anti sickness tablets don't seem to help, make sure you go back to your radiotherapy team. There are lots of different anti sickness medicines and sometimes it takes a couple of 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 might also help.

Steroids 

Your doctor might prescribe steroids for you to take whilst having brain radiotherapy. Radiotherapy to the brain can cause swelling which can lead to nausea, but steroids can help to relieve the pressure. 

Complementary therapies for sickness

Complementary therapies can help to relax you. This might help with feeling sick. 

Some people find that relaxation techniques such as visualisation help to reduce their 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 or Seabands press on acupuncture points in the wrist and might help to reduce nausea for some people.

Diet tips

Here are some tips that might be helpful:

  • Avoid fried foods, fatty foods or foods with a strong smell.
  • Have a small meal a few hours before treatment but not just before.
  • Drink lots of liquid, taking small sips slowly throughout the day - but avoid drinking a lot just before treatment
  • 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.
  • Ask someone else to make your meals for you, if you can.
  • Try eating small meals or snacks more often rather than large meals.
  • Try sipping fizzy drinks.
  • Eat dry crackers.

Some people find ginger very good for reducing nausea. You can try ginger 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. 

Last reviewed: 
25 Jan 2019
  • Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer
    Anti emetic guidelines - accessed January 2019

  • 2016 MASCC and ESMO guideline update for the prevention of chemotherapy- and radiotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and of nausea and vomiting in advanced cancer patients
    F Roila and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2016. Vol 27, Issue 5, Pages 119-1v13

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium
    Accessed January 2019

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