Nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy

Nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy

Nausea and vomiting are common problems during cycles of chemotherapy, and can sometimes last for several days after the chemotherapy treatment stops. 

Key points to remember

  • nausea and vomiting are common problems during chemotherapy cycles
  • nausea and vomiting can sometimes last for several days after the chemotherapy treatment stops
  • the effects of chemotherapy vary with each child and depend on the dose they receive
  • if your child suffers from nausea and vomiting, your child's cancer doctor will give your child medicines called anti-emetics

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

How do different children respond?

Nausea and vomiting are common problems during chemotherapy cycles. Nausea and vomiting can sometimes last for several days after the chemotherapy treatment stops.

Anxiety about treatment can make vomiting worse

Some children may become anxious before having chemotherapy and other treatments. This may cause vomiting before chemotherapy starts or may cause the vomiting to last longer after treatment. Some children can become so upset by clinic visits and treatments that even the smell of the clinic or hospital can make them feel ill enough to begin vomiting.

The effects of chemotherapy vary with each child

The effects of chemotherapy vary with each child and the dose they receive. A medicine that makes one child very ill often has no effect on another child. Because the effects vary so much, how to manage nausea and vomiting also varies from one child to another. Your child's healthcare team will work out a specific plan for your child.

How is it treated?

Anti-emetics are medicines to reduce nausea and vomiting

If your child has nausea and vomiting, your child's cancer doctor will give your child medicines called anti-emetics. These medicines effectively reduce nausea and vomiting.

Different medicines work well for different children

Different medicines work well for different children and your child may have more than one medicine for relief from nausea and vomiting. Your child can have anti-emetics either by mouth (orally) or into a vein (intravenously). You may be able to give your child medicines by mouth at home if nausea and vomiting continue. Follow the instructions you receive from your doctor or nurse at the treatment centre.

How can I help my child who is nauseous and vomiting?

Give small amounts of fluid throughout the day

  • give sips of drinks all through the day
  • give your child flat lemonade and commercial glucose drinks such as Lucozade which you can buy at the supermarket or pharmacy
  • use cups with lids and straws to make smells less noticeable
  • if vomiting stops but your child still feels sick, it may help to dilute the drinks you give them - try adding water to milk and fruit juices

Give small frequent meals

  • give small, frequent meals or snacks every few hours - don't let your child's stomach become too full or too empty
  • if your child keeps vomiting, don't force them to eat - give them sips of fluid every 30 minutes instead

Try cold foods that don't have much smell

Try giving your child cold foods that don't have much smell - things like jelly, fruit juice, biscuits, sandwiches and desserts.

Try dry foods

Try dry foods such as crackers and plain biscuits.

Try ice cubes, ice blocks, peppermints or barley sugars.

Try small amounts of foods that appeal

When your child is able to drink fluids without vomiting, try giving them small amounts of foods that appeal - such as, cereals, yoghurt and cooked pureed fruit.

Avoid fatty and spicy foods

Avoid giving fatty and spicy foods such as chips, pizza, fried foods and chocolate until after your child stops feeling sick.

When should I call for help?

Phone the hospital and tell your child's doctor or nurse if:

Phone the hospital if your child has not been able to drink for 2 hours, has vomited 3 or 4 times during the last 2 hours, or you are worried.

  • your child has not been able to drink for 2 hours
  • your child has vomited 3 or 4 times during the last 2 hours
  • you are worried about your child's nausea or vomiting

Is it OK to offer my child food after they have vomited?

Yes, children sometimes want to eat a few minutes after vomiting has stopped or after a bout of nausea has passed.

Should I give my child their favourite foods when they are feeling sick?

You can give some of your child's favourites but it might be best to not give all of them. Because they feel so ill, some children develop a lasting association and dislike of some food during this time.

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 21 May 2018.
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