Nausea and Vomiting

Updated 
August 31, 2015

Nauseainfo-icon is a feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomitinfo-icon. It is a common side effectinfo-icon of some types of breast cancer treatment.

When you vomit, you throw up some or all of the contents of your stomach through your mouth. Vomiting usually results from nausea.

In the past, nausea and vomiting were a very common side effect of cancer treatment. That is much less true today. There are many medicines that make nausea and vomiting less likely to happen, or less severe when they do. Your doctors are very likely to offer you medicines to prevent or lessen nausea before or even during your treatment. Ask your providers before you start treatment about how they can help you manage this side effect.

What Causes Nausea and Vomiting?

Nauseainfo-icon and vomiting can be caused by breast cancer treatments such as

These treatments can triggerinfo-icon a reflex in certain parts of your body that leads to nausea and vomiting. Getting a combination of these treatments can increase your risk of these side effects.

There are three types of treatment-related nausea:

  • Acuteinfo-icon nausea happens within the first 24 hours of chemotherapyinfo-icon treatment.
  • Delayed nausea happens a few days after chemotherapy and can last for days or weeks.
  • Anticipatory nausea and vomiting happens just before a chemotherapy appointment or as a result of a trigger, such as a certain odor you associate with your treatment.

Not all breast cancer treatments cause nausea and vomiting. Ask your doctor or nurseinfo-icon ahead of time whether your treatment is likely to cause these side effects. If so, you can take medicines to control and prevent nausea and vomiting.

Nausea and vomiting can also be caused by

  • some pain medicines
  • antibiotics
  • other medicines not related to your cancer
  • the cancer itself
  • other side effects of breast cancer treatment such as dehydrationinfo-icon and constipation
  • shutting down your ovaries with leuprolide (Lupron)
  • bisphosphonates (bone-strengthening medicines)
  • anxietyinfo-icon
  • infections
  • eating something that upsets your stomach
  • bacteria in food
  • other diseases or illnesses
  • an imbalance of electrolytes, salts or minerals, in your blood

Remember, not everyone who has breast cancer treatment develops nausea and vomiting. And the severity can vary among those who do.

How Can I Prevent or Lessen Nausea and Vomiting?

It’s common for doctors to treat you for nauseainfo-icon and vomiting side effects before you start treatment. In many cases, you can take medicines to prevent nausea and vomiting before you get treatment, while you’re getting it, and for days after.

It is very important to take the medicines recommended, even if you do not have nausea or vomiting. It is much easier to prevent nausea than it is to treat it once symptoms start. Ask your doctor to recommend an anti-nausea medicineinfo-icon, also known as an antiemeticinfo-icon. If one doesn’t work, ask for another.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes Also Can Help You With Nausea and Vomiting. These Include

  • Eating more frequent, smaller meals. Eating a lot all at once can make nausea worse. It helps to eat small meals, or snacks, throughout the day, rather than sitting down for three large meals.
  • Eating at the time or times of day when you feel best. If nausea tends to strike in the mornings, eat less or nothing, and wait until later. If you know you tend to get more nauseated at dinnertime, try to eat more in the earlier hours of the day.
  • Avoiding spicy, citric and high-fat foods. Bland choices like rice, plain pasta, bananas and crackers can be easier on your stomach. Foods with ginger, such as gingersnaps, can be soothing.
  • Choosing your environment. Avoid places with strong smells, including the kitchen when meals are being cooked. Eat in a cool room with fresh air. Eat slowly and chew your food well.
  • Drinking cold, clear liquids and sipping them slowly. Ginger or peppermint tea may help, as well as flat soda or ginger ale.
  • Meditation or visualization can help with anticipatory nausea. Take your mind off how you are feeling, and enjoy activities such as soothing music, games, reading, walking or talking with a friend.

If you have metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer, learn more about ongoing treatment and nausea and vomiting.