News | Virtual and Augmented Reality | January 21, 2020

Update in standards of care are needed, the study shows

Virtual reality during chemotherapy has been shown to improve breast cancer patients’ quality of life during the most stressful treatments

January 21, 2020 — Virtual reality during chemotherapy has been shown to improve breast cancer patients’ quality of life during the most stressful treatments, according to a recent study.  

Breast cancer is, to date, the most frequent oncological disease worldwide, and has an impact both from a physical and psychological point of view. Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a challenge, a trauma that causes severe stress from the moment of diagnosis, with frequent manifestations of anxiety and depression. The advances made by oncology and medical treatments, such as the new chemotherapy drugs, allow today to reach a survival that touches 90 percent.

Although modern cancer treatments have partially reduced the side effects on health and quality of life, these therapies are experienced with considerable suffering by women and these can sometimes develop conditioned responses to treatments (such as anticipatory anxiety), reducing compliance of women with treatment (frequent requests for dose reduction or treatment interruption) and, consequently, the effectiveness of the drugs themselves, and therefore survival. In recent years, several psychological interventions have been implemented breast cancer patients during the various stages of treatment, starting from diagnosis, to hospitalization and during chemotherapy infusions.

Among the psychological interventions supported by technological tools, the first study implemented in Italy aimed at evaluating the efficacy of virtual reality during chemotherapy treatments has just released its results. The study was published in the international journal: Journal of Cellular Physiology.

The study, which saw the participation of an international team of researchers affiliated with the Sbarro Health Research Organization in Philadelphia, the Sapienza University of Rome, the Pascale Institute of Naples, and the University of Siena, Italy. The study was coordinated by the psycho-oncologist Andrea Chirico, researcher at the Sapienza, and the internationally renowned oncologist Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., founder and Director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization.

Several psychological tests designed to accurately measure stress and mood before and after chemotherapy treatment were administered to 94 women who underwent chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer at the Pascale Institute in Naples. During chemotherapy a group of women wore a Virtual Reality headset and were immersed in an alternative reality, the second group of women was subjected to music therapy, the control group did not receive any supportive treatment during chemotherapy, which is the current standard at the oncology department.

The results showed that the group of women subjected to virtual reality was able to benefit from the treatment with a substantial lowering of anxiety levels, while the group of women who did not receive any supportive treatment, anxiety increased and mood also deteriorated significantly after chemotherapy.

The highly realistic Virtual Environment is a deserted island where women were able to freely interact with the setting, also undertaking some activities such as walking in the forest, doing yoga, observing animals, swimming, etc.

"This represents the first Italian scientific result in terms of the use of virtual reality during chemotherapy," said Giordano. 

"We must pave the way for scientific studies that can replicate our results to understand the true potential of these tools," added Chirico. 

Among the authors of the study, Michelino de Laurentiis, Director of the Department of Breast Cancer, Principal Investigator for the Pascale Institute claims that, “after these important results, agreeing with the CEO Attilio Bianchi and Prof. Gerardo Botti, Scientific Director of the Pascale Institute, we are planning a new department of breast medical oncology with HI TECH chairs equipped with virtual reality to ensure that all of our patients could have a better and unique quality of care in Italy.”

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