AMELIA ISLAND, FloridaVirtual reality interventions that provide a distracting, immersive environment may make chemotherapy treatments more tolerable for cancer patients, according to a study presented at the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) Third Annual Conference (abstract II-4).
"Chemotherapy is difficult to endure, but the chances for survival are enhanced when patients receive all their recommended chemotherapy treatments on time. We know that distraction interventions provide relief for a variety of symptoms, and our hope was that VR, which engages several senses, would have a similar effect on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy," said Susan M. Schneider, PhD, RN, associate professor, Duke University School of Nursing.
Dr. Schneider and her colleagues randomized 123 patients with a first diagnosis of breast, lung, or colon cancer to receive a virtual reality intervention at either their first or second chemotherapy treatment. Study outcomes were symptom distress, anxiety, and fatigue, immediately after using virtual reality and 48 hours later.
Patients had four virtual reality programs to choose from: Deep sea diving, touring an art museum, solving a mystery on the Titanic, and exploring ancient worlds. The patients used virtual reality for an average of 58 minutes (range, 15 to 202 minutes).
Individuals who received virtual reality at their first chemotherapy session had a significant decrease in their anxiety, compared with those who got virtual reality at their second session, Dr. Schneider reported.
"It seems that during their very first chemotherapy session, patients are more anxious than they are at subsequent ones, and the group who used virtual reality during their first chemotherapy showed improvements in their anxiety," Dr. Schneider said. "We hypothesized that those who got the virtual reality at their second chemo session were probably a little less anxious about their chemotherapy, since they had already survived one, and our data showed that."
A key and consistent finding was that virtual reality altered patients' perception of time. Patients thought their chemotherapy treatment lasted on average 20 minutes less than it actually did, Dr. Schneider noted.