Watching Disney Movies During Chemo May Improve QoL in Patients with Gynecologic Cancer

May 18, 2020

Recent findings suggested that watching Disney movies during chemotherapy treatment may be correlated with improvements in quality of life in patients with gynecologic cancers.

Findings published in JAMA Network Open suggested that watching Disney movies during chemotherapy treatment may be correlated with improvements in emotional functioning, social functioning, and fatigue status in patients with gynecologic cancers. 

Researchers indicated that the results of this study are “more than promising,” suggesting that this patient population can be counseled on the basis of these findings.

“Most studies about [quality of life; QoL] in oncologic patients were conducted with music intervention and showed ambivalent results,” the authors wrote. “Disney movies go a step further, because they provide not only the music component with the famous songs, which are generally considered quite catchy, but also tell exciting stories.”

The study was performed from December 2017 to December 2018, and a consecutive sample of women with gynecologic cancers were recruited for the study through July 2018 from a cancer referral center in Vienna, Austria. Women included in the study were older than 18 years of age, had written informed consent, and 6 planned cycles of chemotherapy with either carboplatin and paclitaxel or carboplatin and pegylated liposomal doxorubicin. Women with inadequate knowledge of the German language or receipt of other chemotherapy regimens were excluded. 

Study participants were either shown Disney movies or not during 6 cycles of chemotherapy. Before and after every cycle of chemotherapy, participants also completed standardized questionnaires from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC). Primary outcomes were change of QoL and fatigue, both defined by the EORTC questionnaire, during 6 cycles of chemotherapy. 

Ultimately, 56 women were enrolled in the study and 50 completed it, including 25 women in the Disney group and 25 women in the control group. Over the course of 6 cycles of chemotherapy, patients in the Disney group reported feeling less tense and worrying less than patients in the control group according to their responses regarding emotional functioning (mean [SD] score, 85.5 [13.6] vs 66.4 [22.5]; maximum test P = 0.01). 

“This is a surprising result, which we find hard to interpret,” the authors wrote. “Hypothetically, it might be associated with a short-term effect of the movies on patients’ self-perception and hope. The latter has already been claimed to be positively correlated with QoL in adult oncologic patients.” 

Notably, perceived global health status was not associated with watching Disney movies (mean [SD] score, 75.9 [17.6] vs 61.0 [25.1]; maximum test P = 0.16). 

According to the researchers, an interesting aspect of Disney movies is that they tell stories of overcoming difficulties without necessarily resolving them. Instead, they are more about accepting change than about heroically conquering all odds, with the true victory of characters being their personal growth. 

“It is not known whether Walt Disney created so many motherless characters to deal with his perceived guilt for his mother’s death. However, known positive coping strategies, such as accepting support from friends and loved ones or active problem-solving, are frequently found in his movies,” the authors wrote. “This may be a reason for the increase in social functioning scores in our data.”

“On the other hand, coping mechanisms such as escape and distraction are seen as helpful,” the authors continued. “Because watching Disney movies might take the patients’ minds off their treatment, this could explain the increase in emotional functioning scores.” 

Moreover, the researchers suggested that a certain nostalgia related to Disney movies may help patients alleviate their fears of the present. Even further, though patients may have already developed their own coping mechanisms, Disney movies may offer new ones, which could provide patients with a wider choice. 

Importantly, because only women were included in the study, no conclusions can be drawn for male oncologic patients. Additionally, the researchers noted that for patients with deceased children, watching Disney movies could have a potentially negative effect. 

Reference:

Pils S, Ott J, Reithalle A, Steiner E, Springer S, Ristl R. Effect of Viewing Disney Movies During Chemotherapy on Self-Reported Quality of Life Among Patients With Gynecologic Cancer. JAMA Network Open. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.4568.