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.
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 nausea.
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.
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.
Radiotherapy can cause many different side effects, such as tiredness. The side effects you get will depend on the area you're having treatment to but there are some general side effects you might experience regardless of where your cancer is. This video is about the side effects you might have when having radiotherapy to the brain.
On screen text: Severe tiredness (somnolence)
Mary: You know, when you say you're tired, it's not like being tired. It's like you lose all of your energy and you just do something simple like having a shower and it's like you have to lie down or you have to rest.
Martin (radiographer): After completing brain radiotherapy, you may experience severe tiredness known as somnolence. This can occur about six weeks after treatment finishes.
Mary: That fatigue really hit me and it went on for a while afterwards as well. It didn't get worse. It just stayed.
Martin (radiographer): Symptoms of somnolence include extreme tiredness and slowed mental processing. To help you cope we would recommend listening to your body and trying not to overdo things but if you can do light exercise to help maintain your energy levels.
Mary: I just took a rest if I needed to and I had to learn not to be so hard on myself. But there is little things that you can do that I felt helped anyways. That little bit of exercise. Just going for them small walks. They really do help you and even if it is just walking around your house or just walking around the block, getting outside, just getting a bit of fresh air that really, really did help me.
On screen text:
- Rest and have short naps when you need to
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat a balanced diet
- Do some gentle exercise
- Try to get some fresh air
On screen text: Feeling or being sick
Mary: After the first two or three days of the radiotherapy, I started getting really bad nausea. As the radiotherapy went on, it was just kind of a constant. Every time I'd have it, I'd feel sick afterwards.
Martin (radiographer): If you do experience sickness, then speak with your team. They can prescribe medications to help with that.
Mary: I did ask my oncologist. I'll just explain to him that I'm feeling sick from this. Please, can I get something? And then they did. They prescribed me these anti sickness medication so that did help me a lot. You don't want to eat anything, but you have to. If you're going to keep your strength up, anything that aggravates your stomach or aggravates the nausea, don't go near that but if you don't eat even though you feel sick and you feel nauseous, then you're going to feel even worse.
On screen text:
- Ask your doctor about anti sickness medication
- Your doctor might prescribe you steroids to help with your sickness
- Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and visualisation can help
- Certain food might make it worse, such as fried food
- Eat a few hours before treatment rather than just before
- Try sipping water or fizzy drinks throughout the day
On screen text: Hair loss
Martin (radiographer): Having radiotherapy to your head can cause hair loss in the area that we're treating. It's unlikely to be all over the head, more likely to be in patches.
Mary: 2 to 3 weeks after the radiotherapy I was brushing my hair and loads came out on the brush. I knew it was going to happen, but it was just hard when it happened.
Martin (radiographer): In many cases, the hair will grow back about two months after treatment finishes. The texture and the colour may be different to before.
Mary: Mine did grow back and there's a lot of grey in it so I have to dye it, this is not my original colour. It's very slow growing back. I would say use quite a sensitive shampoo, a baby shampoo. Use that for sensitive skin in your head.
Martin (radiographer): Protect the head from the sun and the wind and avoid using hair colour, hair dryer or straighteners to style your hair. If you experience substantial hair loss, then speak with your team who can give you information about wigs and hair coverings.
Mary: I got some really cool head scarves. There is some really nice ones out there.
On screen text:
- Be gentle with your hair
- Use a non-perfumed shampoo or baby shampoo
- Avoid using heat on your hair such as a hairdryer or hair straighteners
- Let hair dry naturally or gently pat dry with a soft towel
- Your radiographer can advise you on how to care for sore skin
- Speak to your radiographer about hair coverings and wigs
On screen text: Your symptoms might get worse
Martin (radiographer): Radiotherapy to the brain can cause swelling in the area that we're treating. If you already had symptoms before starting treatment, this swelling may make the symptoms worse. After you've finished treatment, the swelling may continue for a few more weeks, but then you should recover quite quickly.
On screen text:
- Your symptoms may get worse during treatment
- This might include headaches, sickness, fits, numbness and weakness in your hands and feet
- You might need steroids to help reduce the swelling
If you're experiencing a side effect that hasn't been covered in this video, you can find more information on the Cancer Research UK website.
On screen text: For more information go to: cruk.org/radiotherapy/side-effects