Chemo-induced nausea? Putting on some music may help, study suggests

Jairia Dela Cruz
30 Mar 2023
Chemo-induced nausea? Putting on some music may help, study suggests

For people undergoing chemotherapy, tuning in to some music may help soothe nausea symptoms, as reported in a small pilot study.

Data for 66 music listening engagements showed that a 30-minute adjunct music listening intervention led to a significant reduction in nausea severity (p<0.001) as well as distress (p<0.001). The intervention also had significant effects when the acute and delayed phases of nausea were examined individually. [Clin Nurs Res 2023;32:469-477]

The study included 12 patients who were experiencing chemotherapy-induced nausea. They were instructed to listen to some music for 30 minutes at the time they took their as-needed antiemetic medication. They repeated the intervention each time nausea occurred over the 5 days beyond their chemotherapy treatment.

Furthermore, the intervention was met with favourable reception. The participants reported that they were able to perform the intervention with little effort.

Previous studies have explored music-listening interventions to reduce pain and anxiety, and the present study provides evidence that such interventions may be considered as a nonpharmacologic approach to relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea.

What’s great is that music-listening interventions are accessible, similar to over-the-counter medication, according to principal study investigator Dr Jason Kiernan, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, US. “You don't need a doctor to prescribe them.”

Nevertheless, Kiernan acknowledged that he and his team were not able to establish whether the effect on nausea severity was due to the gradual release of the medication or an actual benefit of the music.

The next step in the study, according to Kiernan, is to measure the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin that was released by platelets in the blood after listening to perceived unpleasant and pleasant music.

A similar study has been conducted before, with results showing that the serotonin content of platelets was higher when listening to perceived pleasant vs unpleasant music (748 vs 699 ng/10(9) platelets; p<0.014), with the difference in serotonin level significantly correlated with the score of unpleasantness, as rated by the participants. This finding suggests that perceived unpleasant music might induce reduced peripheral and, possibly, also central intracellular serotonin content. [Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2000;250:144-147]

“Serotonin is the major neurotransmitter that causes chemotherapy-induced nausea. Cancer patients take medications to block serotonin's effects,” Kiernan pointed out.

“[The previous study] was intriguing because it provides a neurochemical explanation and a possible way to measure serotonin and the blood platelet release of serotonin in my study,” he said. “In 10 to 20 years, wouldn't it be neat if you could use a nonpharmacological intervention like listening to 10 minutes of your favorite music to complement a medicine?”

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