Virtual reality helps breast cancer patients cope with chemotherapy

DURHAM, N.C. -- Women with breast cancer have fewer adverse effects from chemotherapy and less fatigue when using virtual reality as a distraction intervention during treatments, according to a study from the Duke University School of Nursing and Case Western Reserve Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the study, published in the January 2004 issue of Oncology Nursing Forum, the researchers described how chemotherapy patients eased their fatigue and discomfort by solving a mystery, touring an art gallery or going deep-sea diving in a virtual environment as they underwent treatment.

Virtual reality enables people to immerse themselves in a computer-generated visual and aural environment by wearing a head-mounted display device. The researchers believe that virtual reality makes for an excellent distraction intervention because it is interactive, engages several senses simultaneously and immerses participants in a new world, thereby blocking out their current and often stressful environment.

That stressful environment was almost too much for chemotherapy patient Donna Honeycutt of Elon, N.C. She worried that she wouldn't be able to complete the entire series of treatments she needed to have the best chance of beating her breast cancer.

"You're in a room with many other people receiving chemotherapy. Some are very sick and you tend to always look at the individual who's sickest. For me, I felt sicker when I was in this environment," said Honeycutt, who underwent her chemotherapy two years ago and completed a portion of her treatments using virtual reality.

Susan Schneider, Ph.D., director of the oncology program at Duke University School of Nursing and lead author on the paper, said that helping patients keep their minds off the stresses of chemotherapy can be both physically and mentally important to patients.

"I've been a nurse for more than 20 years, and I've noticed if patients can focus on something other than the

Contact: Amy Austell
Duke University Medical Center

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