Dealing with Nausea

Cancer patients frequently experience nausea and vomiting. Your doctor may have ordered antinausea medications to prevent you from feeling sick. You also may lose your appetite, or your appetite may be greater in the morning or at unusual times of the day.

If you are experiencing nausea or loss of appetite, try these suggestions:

  • Eat small meals frequently and slowly.
  • Eat foods that are low in fat (lean meats and broiled, baked, or boiled foods).
  • Eat dry foods, such as toast and crackers, especially when you get up in the morning.
  • Eat foods that are served cold or at room temperature.
  • Avoid spicy, hot food or food with strong odors. Eat bland foods.
  • Drink clear, cool beverages, such as clear soups, carbonated sodas, frozen juice bars (e.g., Popsicles), or ice cubes made from a favorite liquid.
  • Sip liquids slowly or through a straw.
  • Wear loose clothing for added comfort.
  • Get lots of fresh air; it may increase your appetite.
  • Sit down and rest after eating.
  • Do not exercise after eating, lie down for at least 2 hours after eating, or eat your favorite foods when nauseated.
  • Ask your doctor about using an antinausea medication.

Treating Mouth Discomfort

Many cancer-fighting drugs may make the cells inside your mouth and throat more susceptible to irritation than usual. It is important to take regular care of your mouth. If your mouth is sore or if you are having difficulty chewing or swallowing, try these suggestions:

  • Eat moist foods and drink plenty of liquids. Moisten dry foods with gravy, broth, sauce, or melted butter or margarine. Soak foods in coffee, tea, milk, cocoa, or other warm beverages.
  • Select soft foods, such as mashed potatoes, custard, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, milk shakes, puddings, gelatins, creamy cereals, and macaroni and cheese.
  • Make stews, soups, and casseroles with lots of liquid.
  • Eat canned or cooked fruits rather than fresh, raw fruits if they are easier to swallow.
  • Tone down acidic and salty foods with white or brown sugar.
  • Eat your food lukewarm or cold rather than hot. Because cold foods may be soothing, add ice or ice cream to liquids.
  • Rinse your mouth often. Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol or lots of salt because they can irritate your mouth.
  • Brush with a soft-bristle toothbrush or cotton swab.
  • Use a straw or drink directly from a cup rather than eating with a spoon.
  • Avoid these foods and beverages: hot spices, such as pepper, chili powder, nutmeg, and cloves; rough or coarse foods, such as raw vegetables and bran; dry foods, such as toast and hard breads unless you soak them first; citrus juices and tomatoes - they may sting or burn your mouth (substitute fruit drinks and nectar); alcoholic beverages.

Increasing Caloric Intake

To add calories to your diet, read food labels and try to eat more of the following foods:

  • Butter
  • Sour cream
  • Mayonnaise
  • Peanut butter
  • Whipped cream
  • Honey
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Marshmallows
  • Fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen juices
  • Milk shakes

Adding Protein

To add protein to your diet, read food labels and try these suggestions:

  • Use milk instead of water when making soup, cereals, cocoa, and puddings.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of skim milk powder to regular milk. Also add the powder to hot or cold cereals, eggs, soup, gravies, casseroles, and baked goods.
  • Add diced or ground meat to soups and casseroles.
  • Add grated cheese to sauces, vegetables, soups, and casseroles.
  • Add cream cheese, peanut butter, or butter on breads.
  • Add cooked cubed shrimp, canned tuna, crab meat, diced ham, or sliced boiled eggs to sauces; serve over rice, noodles, toast, or biscuits.
  • Choose dessert recipes containing eggs (such as sponge cake, angel food cake, custard, bread pudding, and rice pudding).

Increasing Your Appetite

If you have lost your appetite, try these suggestions:

  • Eat frequent small meals instead of three large meals.
  • Provide a pleasant atmosphere at mealtimes. Use colorful place settings and vary the colors of the foods at each meal. Soft music or pleasant conversation also may be relaxing and help make eating more enjoyable.
  • Stimulate your appetite with a little wine or beer (if approved by your doctor).
  • Garnish meal plates with fresh fruits and vegetables (e.g., parsley, spiced apples, lemon wedges, or tomatoes).
  • Vary smells and textures of foods at meals.
  • Vary food selections.
  • Get lots of fresh air; it may increase your appetite.

Dealing with Decreased or Low Blood Counts

Some medications or diseases may weaken your immune system by decreasing the number of blood cells. Blood cells include white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that carry oxygen and energy, and platelets that help clot blood and promote wound healing. Your doctor may order tests before, during, and after your treatment to see if your blood cells are affected by your medication.

Important reminders if you have decreased blood cell count:

To prevent infection:

  • avoid people with contagious diseases, such as the flu.
  • do not have any vaccinations (e.g., measles or flu shots) without asking your doctor or pharmacist.
  • keep all cuts and scratches clean.
  • maintain good personal hygiene, including frequent hand washing and mouth care.

To avoid injuries:

  • shave with an electric razor rather than blades.
  • wear protective clothing (such as long pants and gloves) when working in the yard and garden.

Try to maintain your normal activity schedule but:

  • avoid stressful situations.
  • be careful not to overexert yourself.
  • remember to take a break and rest whenever you feel tired.

AHFS® Consumer Medication Information. © Copyright, The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc., 7272 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland. All Rights Reserved. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized by ASHP.

Last Reviewed: September 1, 2010.