Nausea and Vomiting

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2017

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of many cancer treatments. Nausea is feeling like you are going to vomit or throw up. Vomiting may happen as treatment nears, within 24 hours after treatment, or 2 or more days after treatment.

Causes of nausea and vomiting for people with cancer

Nausea and vomiting may be caused by:

  • Chemotherapy

  • Radiation therapy, especially to the brain, spinal cord, abdomen, and pelvis. People who receive total body radiation therapy, such as before stem cell/bone marrow transplantation, have the highest risk.

  • Cancer that has spread to the brain

  • Blocked intestine, also called gastrointestinal obstruction

  • Electrolyte imbalance, which is the loss of minerals such as potassium and sodium

  • Infections or bleeding in the stomach and intestines

  • Heart disease

  • Other medications

You may be more likely to have nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy if:

  • You have vomited after cancer treatment before

  • You often have motion sickness

  • You are anxious before cancer treatment

  • You are younger than 50, especially if you are a woman

Mild nausea and vomiting can be uncomfortable. Usually it does not cause serious problems. Vomiting a lot and often is a problem. It can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, weight loss, and depression. Severe vomiting may lead some patients to stop cancer treatment. It is important to tell your health care team if you experience nausea or vomiting so they can help you prevent it.

Managing nausea and preventing vomiting

Relieving side effects, also called palliative care, is an important part of cancer care and treatment. Learn more about ASCO's guidelines on preventing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy or radiation therapy with medications.

Your health care team may prescribe medication to take before receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy and also after treatment to take at home. There are other options that you may want to discuss with your health care team as well, including:

  • Distraction

  • Relaxation

  • Positive imagery

  • Acupuncture

Some herbal medications, like ginger, may help with nausea. However, you should discuss your plans with your health care provider before starting any alternative or complementary treatments.

If your nausea or vomiting does not stop or gets worse, talk with your health care team. The cause of the nausea and vomiting may need to be identified. Also, if vomiting leads to dehydration, you will need to be treated for that. Dehydration can lead to other health problems.

Related Resources

More Information

National Cancer Institute: Nausea and Vomiting