Virtual reality sessions lasting just 10 minutes could ease pain for cancer patients

By Staff 6 Min Read

A new study has found that virtual reality sessions lasting just 10 minutes could be used to reduce the pain of cancer patients, with the effects lasting up to the following day

A new study suggests that 10-minute virtual reality sessions could help alleviate the pain experienced by cancer patients.

New research has found that VR sessions not only reduced pain but also had a lasting positive effect up to the following day. The immersive VR sessions were found to be far more effective at reducing pain than similar methods using the more basic technology of an iPad. The results of the study, published by the American Cancer Society, suggest that VR pain therapies could soon be introduced as a non-medication strategy to ease discomfort and pain in cancer patients.

Most people with cancer experience pain, and while treatments are available to reduce this pain, they usually involve opioids. VR sessions that immerse the user in different environments have already shown their potential as a non-invasive and non-pharmacological way to reduce pain in various patient groups.

However, until now, there has been a lack of data on whether these methods could work for cancer patients. To investigate this, Dr Hunter Groninger and his team from Georgetown University School of Medicine and MedStar Health in Washington DC selected 128 adults with cancer.

The researchers divided the patients, all of whom were suffering from moderate to severe pain, into two groups. One group was given a 10-minute immersive VR experience in calm, pleasant environments, while the other group was given a ten-minute, two-dimensional guided imagery experience on an iPad, reports Bristol Live. They found that while both methods reduced patients’ pain, the VR sessions had a more significant effect.

Patients rated their pain levels on a scale of zero to 10 before and after their treatment. Those in the iPad group reported an average decrease of 0.7 points in their pain score, whereas those in the VR group reported an average decrease of 1.4. A full 24 hours after the interventions, patients in the VR group still reported sustained improvement in their pain severity at 1.7 points below the baseline prior to their interventions, whereas those in the iPad group reported scores just 0.3 points lower.

Participants in the VR intervention group also reported improvements related to how much their pain bothered them – regardless of the severity of their pain – as well as improvements related to general distress. Patients also expressed their satisfaction with the VR intervention.

“Results from this trial suggest that immersive VR may be a useful non-medication strategy to improve the cancer pain experience,” Dr Groninger said. He suggested that further research could expand on their findings, saying: “While this study was conducted among hospitalised patients, future studies should also evaluate VR pain therapies in outpatient settings and explore the impact of different VR content to improve different types of cancer-related pain in different patient populations.

“Perhaps one day, patients living with cancer pain will be prescribed a VR therapy to use at home to improve their pain experience, in addition to usual cancer pain management strategies like pain medications.”

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