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What Are Chemotherapy Antiemetics?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chemotherapy antiemetics can limit or prevent vomiting associated with chemotherapy for cancer. The risk of Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and Vomiting (CINV) is a substantial concern with many drug regimens, and can be a significant issue for patients. People preparing for cancer treatment may express concern about nausea as a side effect. Awareness of chemotherapy antiemetics can help allay these fears, which are sometimes significant enough that people delay or refuse treatment. There are several classes of medication available and a number of guidelines for their use.

Patients can experience acute vomiting after chemotherapy, where they start to feel ill within 24 hours of administration. Other cases are delayed, onsetting later as the drugs have a chance to circulate in the body. Some people experience anticipatory vomiting, where fear and stress contribute to a nauseated reaction, even though the drug shouldn’t necessarily cause this reaction. The type of vomiting plays a role in the most appropriate treatment approach.

One class of chemotherapy antiemetics works by blocking receptors in the area of the brain responsible for controlling vomiting. They essentially stop the signal, preventing vomiting and alleviating nausea. Other medications work by facilitating stomach emptying and gastric motility to move food along more quickly. This can limit the amount of food present in the stomach. A combination of chemotherapy antiemetics may be recommended to provide comprehensive prevention.

If someone is scheduled to receive medication associated with a very high risk of vomiting, antiemetics can be taken before the chemotherapy session. This gives the drugs time to work and can offer a greater degree of control. Patients may continue to take chemotherapy antiemetics to address concerns about delayed onset vomiting. If they don’t respond to the medications, a different combination may be available to determine if it’s possible to attack the problem from another angle.

Other patients may be allowed to start chemotherapy first, and wait to see if they develop CINV. Care providers may want to avoid unnecessary medications, if possible. Should patients experience nausea, chemotherapy antiemetics can be started and used with future chemotherapy sessions to prevent bad reactions.

Options to manage vomiting aren't limited to medications. Patients can also explore complementary options, like herbal antiemetics as well as techniques like acupuncture, which some patients find helpful in the management of nausea. Meditation and breathing exercises can be particularly useful for anticipatory vomiting, by allowing patients to calm down in periods of stress to reduce the chance of vomiting.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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