Virtual Reality for cancer patients – a distraction from the distressful reality

Amer Badarneh

Amer Badarneh

General Manager at Almajdouie Academy & Training Company
Amer Badarneh

Amer Badarneh

General Manager at Almajdouie Academy & Training Company
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content - vr for cancer patients

Cancer treatment is called a battle for a reason. It is painful and exhausting and often rather time-consuming. Combined with the patient’s overall state of distress, the treatment can make their life rather miserable.

At the same time, research results suggest that stress may have a direct relation to the severity of cancer and treatment success. Patients under constant stress might be more likely to develop metastases or relapse after initial recovery. Thus, keeping patients’ moods up and maintaining their positive attitudes may contribute to treatment success.

However, the oncology ward environment can hardly be regarded as positive or uplifting. Oncology patients stay there expecting painful chemotherapy infusions taking a lot of time during which they are bound to a hospital room. All they see and hear is beeping equipment, dripping IV feeds, and, sometimes, their fellow patients who are as stressed and miserable as they are.

The obvious way out is a distraction. There are a lot of studies showing the positive effect of distraction on patients, particularly, those undergoing cancer treatment. It helps to reduce anxiety and fear, alleviate pain, and make the procedure generally more bearable.

There are multiple ways to distract a patient during treatment – with music, conversation, massage, aromatherapy, etc. 

However, virtual reality for cancer patients remains the most powerful and effective distraction technique, because it is the only one that can transport the patient into a totally different world fully blocking the depressing hospital environment.

Virtual reality as a distracting factor

The distracting effect of virtual reality has been the subject of research for more than a decade. 

study of virtual reality distraction abilities in chemotherapy showed that patients offered a VR experience during their treatment had an altered perception of time – the procedure seemed to be not as long as it actually was.

More recent research confirmed VR’s ability to create immersive experiences occupying all senses of the patient, thus blocking the unpleasant sensations they feel during various treatments. When patients “escape” to virtual reality, time passes quicker and the hours they are forced to spend in the chemo room do not seem that long.

Usually, virtual reality apps that are used to distract patients from the distress of cancer treatment include peaceful, relaxing environments – a beach, a forest, an underwater journey. However, sometimes VR graphics can even be created on-demand to recreate a patient’s dream place.

Virtual reality improving the quality of cancer patients’ life

Besides the immediate distraction during chemotherapy sessions, virtual reality for cancer patients has a more prolonged effect of reducing the patient’s anxiety and fear between treatments. The unpleasant sensations that the patients feel make them afraid of the next session and deteriorate their quality of life between treatments.

As a result, patients may tend to demand chemotherapy dose reduction hoping to reduce the symptoms they feel during it or even stop the treatment altogether because the next session seems unbearable. Consequently, the effect of cancer treatment is dramatically decreased together with the patient’s chance of survival and total recovery.

At the same time, the unpleasant memories of past treatments make patients depressed and stressed. Constant low mood and stress affect the patient’s recovery potential, too.

Virtual reality can help here, too. By blocking out the unpleasant reality of the oncology ward and replacing it with an imaginary world where patients can forget about cancer for several hours and feel whole and free, VR prevents or diminishes the formation of bad memories. Therefore, the patients do not dread the upcoming treatments as they used to and live a normal life between hospital visits.

A study showed that the mood and attitude of the patients who were offered virtual reality during their treatments were significantly higher than that of those who underwent chemotherapy in usual surroundings.

content - vr for cancer patients

Virtual reality improving body functioning of cancer patients

Cancer often develops at an advanced age when patients suffer from other age-induced conditions, such as deterioration of eyesight, lack of coordination, and dementia. Some cancer medications can have these symptoms as side-effects, too. Combined with painful and stressful cancer treatments, these conditions can severely diminish the patients’ quality of life.

Virtual reality can reduce these symptoms by improving the patient’s eyesight and stimulating brain activity. The key factor is the diversity of VR environments that often recreate the patient’s memories rebuilding their interest and engagement.

Another positive effect that was observed in cancer patients is the reduction of pain caused by treatments or their health condition. A study showed that the brain zones affected by pain were physically reduced in patients who used virtual reality.

What VRwecare can offer

As you can see, virtual reality can improve the quality of life for cancer patients in more than one way. VRwecare offers cooperation in creating top-quality virtual reality apps specially tailored for the needs of oncology hospitals.

We build VR apps following specific requirements of the particular medical facility and adapted to the social, cultural, and ethnic characteristics of the target audience.

Our healthcare VR apps are designed with a focus on the particular problem they are intended to resolve and include all the necessary localization functions allowing to adapt it  easily to the specific regional use cases. 

Moreover, we take into account such factors as the predominant religion and ethnicity to create content that is naturally acceptable for the target audience.

For more details and to request a demo of our healthcare VR app, please contact us.