PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FlaBreast cancer patients were
less stressed by treatment-related symptoms when they used virtual reality
software to solve a mystery, visit an art museum, or go deep-sea diving during
chemotherapy sessions. Susan M. Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN, reported the results
of the pilot study at the Oncology Nursing Society’s Sixth National
Conference on Cancer Nursing Research.
Dr. Schneider said that the patients showed significant
improvement in the Symptom Distress Scale and the Piper Fatigue Scale
immediately after the chemotherapy sessions with the virtual reality
intervention, compared with sessions without the distraction.
While 48-hour follow-up did not reveal significant changes, the
researchers noted a trend toward improved symptom distress, she said. The
experiment also quelled fears that the virtual reality experience itself would
produce symptoms such as headache and nausea.
The researchers turned to commercially available 3D CD-ROM
software because it has been shown to help children and adolescents take their
minds off cancer treatment.
"The stress of worrying about chemotherapy treatment can
be exhausting," said Dr. Schneider, director, Graduate Oncology Nursing
Program, Duke University. Patients often magnify their anxiety by fixating on
the dripping of their medication and worrying about nurses going in and out of
the room, she said.
Twenty women, ages 18 to 55, took part in the study at Case
Western Reserve University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cleveland. Each was
evaluated twice: once after undergoing a chemotherapy treatment with a virtual
reality distraction and once following a session with no distraction
The women wore a $2,000 Sony Glasstron headset that blocked out
peripheral vision, restricting their view of the treatment room during
chemotherapy (see Figure). The headset was connected to a personal computer,
and researchers offered a choice of three commercially available CD-ROMs.
Titanic: Adventure Out of Time was the most popular. Thirteen
women attempted to solve a shipboard mystery by querying fictional characters;
they viewed the CD-ROM for 67 minutes on average. Ten women toured an art
museum in A World of Art for 42 minutes on average. Six women took a virtual
deep-sea dive in Oceans Below, for 31 minutes on average. (The total adds up to
more than 20 women because some switched CD-ROMs during treatment.)
Time Flies . . .
Virtual reality seemed to make chemotherapy go faster. The
patients estimated that 40 minutes had passed on average instead of more than
60. The women were unanimous that chemotherapy went better with the diversion,
and almost all said they would try it again.
The American Cancer Society and the Comprehensive Cancer Center
at Case Western funded the experiment. Dr. Schneider said she hopes to do a
full clinical trial comparing different types of distractions, including books
and music, with more breast cancer patients and a larger age range. Co-author
of the study was Maryjo Prince-Paul, MSN, RN, CRNH, Case Western Reserve
University Comprehensive Cancer Center.