Cancer burping question - ovarian lung liver brain cancer
April 17, 2006 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Why do people with cancer burp constantly. My mother, who died of cancer (ovarian) and my brother, who I am currently taking care of (lung, liver and now brain cancer) , both burped almost non-stop after eating and during episodes of nausea and extreme pain or discomfort. Just curious. I don't want to ask this in front of my brother at his doctors appointment. Thank you in advance...
posted by orlin to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
Sorry to hear about your brother's condition. Is he currently receiving chemo? If so, that could be a possible cause. When my husband had cancer, and was in the midst of his chemo, he suffered from constant reflux, which was the result of the nasty tricks that the chemo played on his poor digestive tract. He burped a great deal, and the meds to reduce his nausea and discomfort did little to ameliorate the problem. Once he finished chemo, the problem disappeared. I hope your brother gets better soon. Good luck.
posted by msali at 7:25 PM on April 17, 2006

My dad has been on and off chemo for the last four years. He has burped fairly constantly during his waking hours for the last four years, whether he is on or off chemo. I was told that it has everything to do with his lung capacity (he has mesothelioma, which has located itself in the pleura of his lungs). My dad doesn't have any sort of pain or nausea associated with his burping the majority of the time, and eating neither exacerbates nor halts his burping.

Based on that explanation, though, I really don't know why your mom would have it. Perhaps my dad misunderstood his physician's explanation - I do know that he recently started taking Prilosec at his doctor's perhaps msali's explanation is more accurate?
posted by MeetMegan at 7:42 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: some people in chronic pain develop a nearly sub-conscious habit of swallowing air, almost as if the swallowing behavior was some kind of self-comforting action. They do not realize that they are doing it, but they can swallow several cc's of air with each swallow, and they can swallow several times a minute. The result is a huge volume of "gas" which they then expel largely by "burping," although I personally think some small amount of air, if they are swallowing enough of it, will make it through into the lower GI tract with food and fluids being swallowed as well. If you watch them carefully, you can often see the behavior, particularly if they are near the medication dose interval for pain medications, and have some discomfort. If you remind them of it when you see it, you can make them conscious of it as they are doing it, and they can perhaps stop the behavior for a little while, but it seems to be very hard to eradicate once it become a habit.

My father developed this mannerism late in his life, which became especially noticeable during a severe bout of gastric lesions that required a number of abdominal surgeries. And in the weeks before her death, my mother, who was on high dosages of significant pain medication, and who was refusing most food by then, also began doing this, although never to the extent my father did it.
posted by paulsc at 8:00 PM on April 17, 2006

My late mother's breast cancer resurfaced after some years in her pleura (ie in the gap between the outside wall of the lung and the abdominal cavity), and she also had this burping towards the end. The irritation this caused manifested in various symptoms: coughing, reflux and burping - so much so that she was misdiagnosed for a long time until someone thought to look harder at her lungs. But basically she had a reflex to try and bring up something that had no exit route.

I don't think hefty doses of morphine towards the end helped much either.

In my mind this is also associated with that terrible liquid meal-in-a-can crap they give you when you can't eat properly any more. It's sufficiently thick and goopy that I'm sure you can take down a lot of air with it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:08 PM on April 17, 2006

Best answer: The most likely reason I can think of is that in any type of physical stress situation - illness being a sure bet, and cancer even moreso, especially if there is any degree of bowel involvement - the motility of the gut, i.e. the relative speed with which it moves it's contents along from stomach to anus, can slow markedly. In the most specific, clinically identifiable scenario this is known as an ileus, but milder degrees of slowing are common and often go unrecognized. Typically, this manifests as nausea, from poor clearance of stomach contents, and frequent belching, since air is not being moved through the gut but rather sneaks back out the upper tract.
posted by docpops at 7:05 AM on April 18, 2006

Oh, and don't hesitate to call your doctor and ask for a private return call if you have questions. That's a completely reasonable thing to do given your involvement.
posted by docpops at 7:06 AM on April 18, 2006

It's not chemo. My father in in the early stages of cancer of the aesophagus, hasn't started chemo yet, but has been burping much more than usual even before he was diagnosed.
posted by Hogshead at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2006

My mom burped almost continuously throughout her chemo, and it stopped almost immediately after her chemo finished. When she asked her oncologist about it he just shrugged like he'd never heard of such a thing. It's nice to know that this has happened to other people as well. She was really embarassed about it, and will be happy to know she's not the only one this happened to.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:09 AM on April 18, 2006

Response by poster: My brother is on heavy pain killers (think diladin? and some sort of morphine) -- he has lung, liver and the cancer has recently gone to the brain. Intense pain and neausau. He can't keep anything down and craves food. Lost 170 pounds and weighs 141 now. Has good and bad days that change on a dime.
posted by orlin at 11:29 AM on April 18, 2006

Response by poster: Oh and yes, he has taken both chemo (could only take 4 of 6 treatments) and radiation to the brain.
posted by orlin at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2006

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