Cancer is a formidable adversary that affects millions of lives globally. While medical advancements are constantly being made in the fight against this devastating disease, researchers are now exploring unconventional avenues to help improve the lives of cancer patients. One such innovative approach is the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to alleviate the stress and anxiety experienced by cancer patients.
According to a comprehensive analysis of the existing evidence published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, the use of immersive virtual reality (VR) in the treatment of pain and distress in cancer patients may be beneficial.
According to the findings, there is potential for the technology to help people who are coping with other types of chronic conditions as well, including multiple sclerosis (MS), kidney disease, and dementia.
Using Virtual Reality to Enhance the Quality of Life
There has been an increase in interest in the utilization of virtual reality technologies to improve the quality of life for patients as the costs associated with utilizing these technologies have become more affordable. The degree to which they are successful in assisting people in managing the physical and mental effects of long-term conditions is, however, something that is not yet fully understood.
According to MedicalXpress, in order to address this issue, researchers conducted a comprehensive search of research databases to locate studies examining the use of and efficacy of immersive virtual reality in assisting with the psychological adjustment to chronic conditions in adults.
They found 31 relevant studies that took place between 1993 and 2023 and involved patients who had cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The studies were conducted on patients who received the technology to treat their conditions.
In each of the studies, there were between 30 and 50 participants, the vast majority of whom were female, and their average age was 51. Sessions of virtual reality lasted approximately twenty minutes each and could be completed singly or on a daily basis for a predetermined amount of time.
These studies investigated the use of virtual reality interventions that were either environment-based or game-based. They intended to either engage users with particular skills for managing their condition or to relax users prior to medical procedures by utilizing techniques such as walking in nature and practising mindfulness meditation.
Virtual Reality Helpful in Coping With Treatments
Patients suffering from a wide range of conditions reported that their experience with virtual reality was helpful in managing the psychological and physical effects of their medical treatment. However, there was a huge variety in both the type of virtual reality and the procedures, and there was no option that was obviously superior. Due to the limited sample sizes and absence of control groups in some studies, it is necessary to interpret the results with caution.
There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the precise mechanisms that cause VR to have the effects that it does on patients’ bodies and minds. It may act as a distraction, absorbing the user’s attention, or it may alter the user’s mental state, both of which have the potential to lessen the user’s perception of pain and improve their capacity to deal with their condition.
“These findings are promising in a population at risk of polypharmacy, and suggest immersive VR [virtual reality] can offer a non-pharmacological intervention that is considered acceptable by clinicians, caregivers, and patients,” according to the investigators.
“As VR systems become progressively more accessible, immersive VR interventions may begin to offer cost benefits compared with conventional pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments,” the researchers stated.
The researchers believe that additional research is necessary in order to gain a better understanding of the technology’s mechanisms, the applications that have proven to be the most successful, and the conditions that have shown it to be the most beneficial.
The team concluded that virtual reality (VR) interventions are “acceptable treatments” that have the potential to improve the physiological and psychological effects of physical illness. They referred to “good quality research” to support their assertion that virtual reality (VR) interventions can reduce pain and distress, particularly in patients with cancer.