A trial of “VR” virtual reality headsets has confirmed this tech can help children to calmly receive their radiotherapy treatment, and may prevent use of general anaesthetic.

This Peter Mac and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute collaborative trial involved 30 patients - aged six to 18 years - who put on VR goggles to experience an immersive simulation of their radiotherapy before it got underway.

Dr Nigel Anderson said both the children - and their parents - reported the VR experience reduced their anxiety and improved understanding of the radiotherapy process.

“Coming into hospital and our seeing our radiotherapy machines can be an unsettling experience for anyone, let alone children, and that’s before we get into what we need for optimal treatment,” says Dr Anderson, Peter Mac’s Principal Research Radiation Therapist.

“What this study shows is that children who experience a ‘VR’ version of their treatment feel less anxious, and are better informed, when it’s time for their actual radiotherapy.”

The VR experience simulates walking into the radiotherapy bunker, laying on the LINAC treating machine and, for those requiring this, having an immobilising mask fitted.

Radiotherapy is painless but the patient must remain very still for several minutes – time in which they are alone but converse with their care team via an intercom.

Young children in particular may need a general anaesthetic to ensure they can have this treatment, meaning repeated general anaesthetics over their radiotherapy cycle.

Almost all (29 out of 30) children who had the VR experience did not need a general anaesthetic for their radiotherapy.

Dr Anderson said this was a “very positive sign” but a larger study was needed to conclusively show if anaesthetic use was being averted.

“We look forward to investigating whether our VR experience can avert general anaesthetic use in a larger study group and, in particular, children as young as four or five where we anticipate there could be additional benefit,” Dr Anderson said.

Read the paper, published in the journal Technical Innovations & Patient Support in Radiation Oncology, here: Effects of immersive virtual reality exposure in preparing pediatric oncology patients for radiation therapy

For more information contact the Peter Mac Communications team on 0417 123 048.

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