Every day, nearly 1,200 cases of cancer are detected, according to the French National Cancer Institute. Although cancer has been described since ancient times, for a long time the disease was incurable. Despite contemporary medical advances and the remission of many cases, the word retains a powerful symbolic charge and remains associated with gloomy prospects. In addition to the psychological impact, daily life is disrupted by the treatment and the side effects that can occur. So how can patients maintain or restore the best possible quality of life? After discussing how the protocol works and how it is implemented, we’ll look at the reasons why virtual reality is at the top of the list for providing comfort, relaxation and relief.
What is the purpose of chemotherapy treatment?
Cancer occurs when certain cells in the body malfunction. These cells begin to reproduce in a disorderly fashion and grow exponentially, first locally, then in the surrounding tissues, and finally at a distance where they form metastases.
Chemotherapy, also known as chemo, is a disease treatment based on the use of drugs. Its main aim is to target and destroy the cancer cells that are growing abnormally and uncontrollably in the body.
The choice of drugs varies according to each situation, since every cancer is different and requires its own specific treatment. The drugs administered are not prepared in advance, which sometimes means long waiting times.
Chemotherapy is administered over one or more days in courses or cycles of treatment. As a result, hospitalisation times vary and are not proportional to the severity of the disease. Protocols usually last between 3 and 6 months, although this period varies according to the situation.
Although chemotherapy can have undesirable side effects, such as fatigue, hair loss or nausea, it remains an essential pillar of cancer treatment, often used in combination with other therapies such as surgery and radiotherapy.
How does a chemotherapy protocol work?
- Preparation: before the session, the patient is generally seen by a medical team who will check his or her state of health and vital signs and discuss any changes since the last session. Blood tests may also be carried out to assess the level of white and red blood cells and platelets.
- Set-up: the patient will then be directed to a treatment room with a comfortable chair or bed to continue the procedure.
- Venous access: chemotherapy is generally administered either intravenously (IV) or orally. In the first case, a healthcare professional will insert a needle or catheter into a vein, usually in the arm or hand. This device can remain in place for the duration of the session to make it easier to administer the medication. In the other case, the treatment takes the form of tablets or capsules.
- Administration of drugs: in the case of intravenous administration, the speed varies according to the type of drugs and treatment protocols, from a few hours to a day
- Monitoring: during the session, medical staff constantly monitor the patient’s state of health, vital signs and response to treatment. In this way, they can adjust the speed of administration or take steps to manage any immediate side effects.
- Waiting period: after the drug has been administered, there may be a waiting period to ensure that no adverse reactions occur.
- Withdrawal of the IV: once the session has been completed and the patient’s state of health has been confirmed, the IV will be withdrawn.
- Consultation with the medical team: before leaving, the patient meets the oncologist or a member of the medical team to gather feedback on the session, any side effects experienced and to plan the next steps.
Chemotherapy can be carried out in a clinic, hospital or at home. The length of a session varies according to the type of cancer, the treatment protocol and the patient. Similarly, the frequency and total number of sessions will depend on the specific treatment plan drawn up by the medical team.
Temporary side effects may occur depending on the type of medication and the individual reaction of each patient. The extent of these reactions is not a sign of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the treatment.
The benefits of using virtual reality to relax during chemotherapy
1. A trip outside the walls of the hospital
Chemotherapy treatment often lasts several hours. Intravenous administration restricts movement, which can be particularly restrictive. Due to the lack of distraction and immobility, patients quickly focus on their negative perceptions. During waiting times, it’s hard to get away from the procedure, to think about anything other than the context and the place. So how do you break out of this spiral while respecting the medical framework imposed?
Immersive virtual reality environments offer landscapes designed to amaze and soothe. The creation of Healthy Mind VR software is the fruit of collaboration with healthcare professionals, guaranteeing the relevance of the settings and ambiences to take patients on a journey without changing rooms.
All elements that are potentially stressful or likely to cause discomfort (vertigo or claustrophobia, for example) are eliminated from the scenarios. What’s more, to prevent any additional unpleasant sensations, virtual reality experiences use the ‘teleportation’ method rather than traditional movement. This approach avoids the risk of cyberkinetosis, also known as virtual ‘motion sickness’.
Every aspect has been meticulously thought through, tested and optimised to deliver a lasting sense of relaxation. The graphic quality of the landscapes adds to the sense of immersion. During this moment, the patient is detached from the anxiety-inducing environment and enters a multisensory experience that invites escape.
2. Reducing anxiety and pain to improve patient comfort
Cancer therapies, the disease and daily care often generate physical pain, which in turn has an impact on morale. According to the Cancer Research Foundation, half of all patients say they are in pain, and 4 out of 10 report moderate to severe pain, regardless of the type or stage of the disease. Faced with this recurring sensation, how can treatment be made more comfortable?
A number of studies have confirmed the value of virtual reality in reducing anxiety and pain, particularly through the principle of diverting attention. By inviting patients to immerse themselves in a relaxing environment, VR headsets offer a moment out of time, in a bubble of well-being.
Immersions are not limited to offering magnificent landscapes to disconnect patients and provide them with a sense of relaxation. By combining 3D visuals with the benefits of music therapy, hypnotic suggestions and breathing techniques aimed at achieving cardiac coherence, the experience strives to be as holistic as possible.
In the oncology department at the Hospitals of Northern Vaud (EHNV), a user shares his feelings after taking off the Healthy Mind headset:
“A good trip, it was the snow-covered mountains. It’s hard to explain, you almost want to fall asleep. You’re completely calm. You feel really good.”
A carer also gave her opinion on the use of the device on the ward:
“We’ve had good feedback on anxiety, nausea and pain. Patients of all ages respond positively to this tool. It’s an easy, practical tool to install, which is effective and which allows us to limit the frustration of the carer in not accompanying the patient in his fears.”
3. An ergonomic device that’s easy to set up
By diverting attention, therapeutic virtual reality encourages patients to relax without requiring complex and time-consuming management by carers. As it is wireless, the headset is perfectly compatible with the hospital environment and the various use cases to which it can be put.
Sessions can be adjusted in length, from 5 to 80 minutes. Medical staff can easily configure, monitor and regulate the experience from a tablet application. Constant communication is maintained via the microphone and messaging.
The intuitive interface ensures smooth, simple operation within the medical workflow. The link between the headset and the tablet is fast, secure and does not require an Internet connection. All the equipment can be conveniently stored in a dedicated bag.
Therapeutic virtual reality provides a practical, space-saving and effective solution for calming patients during the anxiety-inducing or painful phases of chemotherapy treatment. The lightweight, wireless device is easy to integrate into the treatment process and can be used independently. If you’d like to see the benefits of our medical solution for yourself, we’d be delighted to arrange a demonstration.