To overcome chemotherapy-caused nausea, doctors use a number of anti-nausea drugs. But some 70 percent of patients still experience nausea and vomiting, according to researcher Julie Ryan, assistant professor of dermatology and radiation oncology at the University of Rochester, who spoke at the briefing. She said previous studies were smaller, had contradictory results, and didn’t examine whether ginger taken before the start of chemotherapy (allowing the herb to fully penetrate the system) would affect nausea.
Douglas Blayney, a University of Michigan professor and incoming president of ASCO, said, “Patients undergoing chemotherapy often ask if there is anything more they can do. Here’s a simple intervention that can be used along with standard [nausea drugs].”
In the study, the researchers chose 644 mostly women patients, two-thirds of whom had breast cancer and all of whom had nausea after one cycle of chemotherapy. Each also had at least three more upcoming cycles. The subjects were randomly divided into four groups, one receiving a placebo, and the others getting capsules containing 0.5 grams (a quarter-teaspoon of fresh or dry ginger), 1.0 gram (a half-teaspoon) or 1.5 grams (three-quarters of a teaspoon) of ginger once a day for six days. The patients, all of whom also took regular doses of traditional anti-nausea drugs Zofran or Kytril, started their capsules three days before undergoing chemotherapy.
The subjects rated their nausea from 1 (no nausea) to 7 (terrible nausea), four times daily for the first four days of the chemotherapy treatments. As the first day ended, the participants who received the two lower amounts of ginger rated their nausea to be 1 or 2 – no nausea to just a little. But those on the placebo had a 4 or 5 nausea level – fairly intense. The highest ginger dose was also effective, but not as much.
Similar results were obtained on the second through fourth days