Chemotherapy and placebos to control nausea

Chemotherapy and placebos to control nausea

"It’s unthinkable to give a placebo to someone to treat their cancer, but could we use one to treat chemotherapy’s well-known side effects? Unfortunately, we may never be able to answer this question because the biggest obstacle to finding out whether it would work is emotional rather than scientific."

Nial Wheate, Senior Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Betty Chaar, Senior Lecturer, both of the University of Sydney, explore the ethics of placebos, in particular with regard to their use in treating chemotherapy induced nausea in this linked article:


Photo: Common Fringe Myrtle flowering in the Australian scrub

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8 Replies

  • I love the photo, Neil. Very interesting article too... Lots of funny things I wasn't expecting.

  • 'Cancer is a much more emotive disease'...

    Frankly I found the article nauseating... ;-) I have experienced chemo and radiotherapy induced nausea and other side effects... projectile vomiting and diarrhea at the same time... placebos... keep them.

    On RCHOP, I had ondansetron, dexamethasone, dimenhydrinate and prochlorperazine, but never used it... oh ya and diphenhydramine, but it was more to prevent rituxan infusion reactions rather than nausea control... perhaps it does both.

  • Chris, I am sorry... I can see that for people like you, who have been through the depths of the horrors of chemo and radiotherapy induced nausea, such an article is like an insult...

    I must admit I did find it interesting , especially the little video clip - which had its funny (meaning strange not laughable) bits. However, the idea of using placebos to relieve side effects of cancer treatments does not rest well on me - it is world's away from placebos to relieve the nausea from smelling disinfectant etc.

  • Guess I need to try not to be so emotive... LOL!

  • Keep being who you are, Chris...

  • I posted the article because it explored some of the power of the placebo in actually being better than competing drugs in some situations - and of course presumably without side effects ;) . I guess you can see the authors' point in that there may be worthwhile benefits in using a placebo to control nausea symptoms if it stops the merry go round of having to take additional drugs to control the side effects of the drugs you need to take, which have their own side effects...

    I'm not surprised to read that patients refuse chemotherapy because they find the nausea so terrible. Perhaps researchers need to investigate how we can use humour to help us through such tough times - or does that only surface after survival Chris?

    If only whatever you were given actually worked, placebo or not... Sadly, many patients put up with terrible nausea unnecessarily, not being informed that there are alternative medications that could be more effective. And that's not good patient care if the patient is too sick to maintain critical nutrition to aid their recovery, or worse, refuses to continue with treatment that should extend their life.


  • Compliance is a problem with oral medications... if you are in the infusion room with a bag hung... chances are you got the prescribed dose...

    But please... give me a drug or two or three that will contol the side effects... Don't worry... I will take them!!

    Compliance is also a concern with Imbruvica (ibrutinib), for example. I often see patients on FB who are pretty clueless... no idea of when to take the 'pills', how many to take, with food, without food, day, night, and so on... are these patients given the information handout?

    The fault lies with uniformed doctors, many bother to read the drug label?


  • I found using travel bands - wrist bands available from large chemists helped enormously with the nausea from chemo. I kept the bands on for the entire six months and although I needed one other anti sickness drug as well, the bands really made a difference. They work by pressing on the acupuncture point for all nausea - travel sickness, pregnancy and they are given out as standard issue to sailors in the navy so are definitely NOT a placebo. If I had a shower and forgot to put the bands back on, I would feel so rough I would have to come rushing back home to put them on.

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