Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment and Nausea: How to Cope

by Elizabeth Millard Health Writer

Nausea is a common side effect of metastatic breast cancer treatment, and a great source of patient anxiety. However, says Nicole Williams, M.D., of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, “We’ve come a long way in treating nausea, and often, a combination of medication and complementary approaches can be very effective.” Here are some tips on handling nausea during treatment.

woman taking anti-nausea medication.

Consider Treatment Before Nausea Begins

There are a number of medications that can be useful both during and before chemo, Dr. Williams says. If you’ve struggled with nausea in other ways—for example, having a sensitive stomach when it comes to certain foods, having morning sickness if you were pregnant, or having motion sickness while traveling—then tell your doctor, since a preventative approach may be the best option for you.

Eat Smaller Meals

When you’re prone to feeling queasy, a large meal may make the situation worse, according to Dr. Williams. “That feeling of fullness can be unpleasant,” she says. “To prevent that, it’s a good idea to have more meals, in smaller portions, throughout the day.” That tactic can also help you keep your energy up, and get more nutrients, she adds.

woman getting acupuncture treatment on back

Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective treatment for a number of issues, including many types of pain, insomnia, stress, and nausea. In breast cancer patients, acupuncture may improve sex drive and joint pain as well. “I’ve seen acupuncture provide numerous benefits for many of my patients,” says Dr. Williams.

ginger tea in saucer

Sip Ginger Tea

Another simple, common remedy that can help is using ginger, says Dr. Williams. Research notes that ginger has been used since ancient times as a remedy for gastrointestinal problems, and studies have found that ginger can be helpful for chemotherapy-related nausea. Dr. Williams suggests finding a form you like, such as ginger tea.

Avoid Fatty and Fried Foods

When you eat foods high in fat, such as fried foods, it causes your gallbladder to work harder to release bile that can digest those fats, says Jack Jacoub, M.D., medical oncologist and medical director of California-based MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center. For some people, the release of more bile can cause nausea or queasiness. Avoiding these kind of foods can help for prevent those reactions.

saltines on a plate

Go Bland

For many people with metastatic breast cancer and other types of cancers, taste can be adversely affected during treatment. Foods might taste metallic, and even strong smells or flavors can be nausea triggers. Dr. Jacoub that many of his patients combat these issues by choosing food that’s more bland, such as saltine crackers, chicken breasts, eggs, sweet potatoes, and rice.

senior woman in yellow raincoat walking dog through field

Get Fresh Air

If nausea does set in, it’s often helpful to take a walk outside to get some fresh, cool air, advises Dr. Williams. In part, this might work because you’ll be breathing deeper—a good nausea remedy in itself—and getting more activity, which can help with digestion. Also, a change of scene and reduced food smells are also useful for knocking out nausea.

Sparkling water

Skip the Bubbly

Carbonated beverages can cause discomfort when you’re already prone toward nausea, Dr. Williams says. It’s fine to have them to a lesser degree—for example, she says many people like ginger ale as a remedy—but a good strategy is to “flatten” the carbonation by pouring a bubbly beverage and then letting it sit for at least 15 minutes before drinking.

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

For some people, excess sugar consumption can bring on nausea, says Dr. Williams. This might be because sugar might cause gas or bloating, leading to a queasy feeling. Too much sugar can also contribute to other problems like headache or energy dips. Consider swapping out sugary treats with healthier options.

Woman talking to her doctor.

Talk With Your Doctor

One of the most important ways to deal with nausea is to have a conversation with your doctor, both about your concerns before treatment and about any nausea you may be experiencing during treatment, says Dr. Jacoub. “Medications have gotten so much better when it comes to cancer-related nausea, and they continue to improve,” he notes. “There’s no reason you have to buckle down and endure nausea; it can definitely be treated.”

Elizabeth Millard
Meet Our Writer
Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, MyFitnessPal, and WebMD, and she has worked on patient education materials for Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. She’s also a registered yoga teacher and organic farmer.