Not all cancer patients will experience nausea, vomiting (emesis), or both. The most common causes are emetogenic chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, liver, or brain. Several patient characteristics have also been identified. These include the following:
Incidence and severity of nausea and vomiting (N&V) during past courses of chemotherapy. Patients with poor control of N&V during prior chemotherapy cycles are likely to experience N&V in subsequent cycles.
History of chronic alcohol use. N&V is less likely in patients with a history of chronic high intake of alcohol.
Age. N&V is more likely in patients younger than 50 years old.
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The psychological variables of state anxiety (level of anxiety during chemotherapy infusions) and pretreatment expectations for N&V (self-fulfilling prophecy) have also been investigated as predictors of posttreatment nausea.[4,5,6,7,8,9] Studies have found mixed results that vary because of different research methods. However, better designed studies have found state anxiety and patient expectations for nausea to be predictors of posttreatment nausea, even after controlling for known physiological predictors (susceptibility to nausea during pregnancy and motion sickness) and emetogenic potential of the chemotherapy drugs.[6,7,8,10,11] It is important to note that patients' fears and expectations about chemotherapy can be variable and change over time. In a longitudinal study, patients' anticipatory fears of vomiting decreased significantly from pretreatment to a period 3 to 6 months later, particularly when their chemotherapy included antiemetic medications.
Clinicians treating N&V must be alert to all potential causes and factors, especially in cancer patients who may be receiving combinations of several treatments and medications. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information on opioid-induced N&V.)
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Hickok JT, Roscoe JA, Morrow GR: The role of patients' expectations in the development of anticipatory nausea related to chemotherapy for cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage 22 (4): 843-50, 2001.
Roscoe JA, Bushunow P, Morrow GR, et al.: Patient expectation is a strong predictor of severe nausea after chemotherapy: a University of Rochester Community Clinical Oncology Program study of patients with breastcarcinoma. Cancer 101 (11): 2701-8, 2004.
Higgins SC, Montgomery GH, Bovbjerg DH: Distress before chemotherapy predicts delayed but not acute nausea. Support Care Cancer 15 (2): 171-7, 2007.
Passik SD, Kirsh KL, Rosenfeld B, et al.: The changeable nature of patients' fears regarding chemotherapy: implications for palliative care. J Pain Symptom Manage 21 (2): 113-20, 2001.
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