Brain and Body

New Treatment Significantly Reduces the Nausea and Vomiting Caused by Chemotherapy

July 21, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Young girl receiving chemotherapy
Photo credit: National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia

Thank you, science.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers at the Sanford Cancer Center in South Dakota has discovered a new treatment that reduces the nausea and vomiting experienced by chemotherapy patients: olanzapine.

Olanzapine, an FDA-approved drug used as an antipsychotic agent, was found to significantly reduce the unwanted chemotherapy side effects by blocking the neurotransmitters involved with nausea and vomiting.

"We've long known the nausea and vomiting that come along with chemotherapy are a major problem and affect the quality of life of our patients," one of the team, cancer researcher Steven Powell, said in a press release. "The findings of this study, fortunately, provide physicians with a tool to better address the needs of those they are treating for cancer."

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The researchers recruited 380 patients for the study — 192 were assigned to olanzapine treatment and 188 to a placebo treatment.

WIthin the first day after treatment, 74 percent of the study participants who were paired with olanzapine experienced no vomiting or nausea from their chemotherapy. That number dropped to 45 percent for those who were given a placebo instead of olanzapine.

Plus, the benefits of olanzapine were long-lasting. Many of the patients experienced the benefits of the drug for five days after chemotherapy treatment.

The researchers report that there were no grade 5 toxic effects, which are the most severe chemotherapy side effects and can be fatal. However, some patients receiving olanzapine experienced increased sedation on day 2 — the effect was severe in 5 percent.

“Olanzapine, as compared with placebo, significantly improved nausea prevention, as well as the complete-response rate, among previously untreated patients who were receiving highly emetogenic [vomit and nausea inducing] chemotherapy,” the researchers concluded in the study.

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