Sickness and weight loss

Radiotherapy to the tummy (abdomen) area can make you feel and be sick. This may stop you from eating and may mean you begin to lose weight.  

Why does radiotherapy to the abdomen cause sickness?

If you're having radiotherapy to the abdomen it is likely that your stomach will also receive a dose of radiation. Radiation to the stomach then causes nausea and vomiting. 

Medicines, diet, and sometimes complementary therapies can help to control sickness

Usually, you'll start to feel better a few weeks after your treatment has ended.

Medicines for sickness

Medicines can usually control sickness well.

Your health care team 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 health care team which would be best for you.

If the anti sickness tablets don't seem to help, make sure you go back to your health care team 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 often really help to reduce sickness. But other methods, such as complementary therapies or changing your diet might also be useful. 

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. 

Weight loss

Sickness or problems eating can cause you to lose weight. You may feel tired and weak. Sometimes you might not feel like eating at all. The dietitian or your doctor can give you advice if eating is a problem. 

If your weight keeps on falling you might need to spend a short time in hospital and have liquid food through a fine tube called a nasogastric tube that goes up your nose and down into your stomach. Or you might have a special liquid feed into the bloodstream through a drip into a vein.

  • Devita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2015

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

Last reviewed: 
11 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
11 Nov 2023

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