UR Study: Expectations Play Strong Role in Nausea from Chemotherapy

December 13, 2004

Women with breast cancer who expect severe nausea from chemotherapy are five times more likely to experience intense nausea than others who don’t anticipate the side effect, according to a research study at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

A person’s expectation, the study shows, is a strong predictor of nausea. And scientists suggest that oncologists should consider changing the way they educate patients about possible side effects, emphasizing the use of nausea-control medications and techniques to reduce the expectations of nausea.

“It’s not simply mind over matter,” says Joseph Roscoe, Ph.D., a Wilmot research assistant professor and the leader of the study funded by the National Cancer Institute. “Some people know their bodies better than others, and know that they’re susceptible to nausea from previous experience with motion sickness or pregnancy-related nausea.”

Nausea and vomiting are the chief complaints that people with cancer have about their chemotherapy treatment. There has been significant progress in controlling the vomiting, but managing the pervasive nausea is still a challenge.

A survey of 194 women showed that those who get nauseous easily and those who expect to have nausea from chemotherapy generally experience it more often than people who don’t expect it, according to the research article published in the December issue of CANCER, the journal published by the American Cancer Society.

Scientists surveyed women before and after they received doxorubicin, (brand name Adriamycin) to treat breast cancer.  Results showed that 68 percent of the women who expected severe nausea experienced it, compared to just 13 percent of breast cancer patients who thought it was unlikely that they’d suffer from severe nausea.

Mounting evidence suggests that these expectancies relating to nausea are significant predictors, and, likely contributing factors to the development of treatment-related nausea, says Roscoe, a member of the Community Clinical Oncology Program at Wilmot Cancer Center, the research base for the national cooperative research group. 

The NCI-funded cooperative group specializes in improving the quality of life of people who have cancer by studying the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatments.

The women surveyed participated in a multi-center clinical trial from 1999-2001 at seventeen geographically diverse member sites of the Wilmot Community Clinical Oncology Program.

In addition to Roscoe, other authors from the Cancer Control Program of the Wilmot Cancer Center include Gary R. Morrow, Ph.D., and Jane T. Hickok, M.D.

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