Can a Virtual Reality Program Reduce Chronic Pain From Cancer?


Researchers are set to launch a new study to examine the feasibility of using an in-home virtual reality-guided mindfulness program to mitigate the effects of chronic cancer-related pain in patients and cancer survivors.

A six-week, in-home virtual reality intervention program will be tested to see if its use is feasible in alleviating symptoms of chronic cancer-related pain, according to Rocket VR Health, the manufacturer of the device.

“Our team at Rocket VR believes virtual reality therapies have the potential to change the way cancer care is delivered,” Sid Desai, CEO and co-founder of Rocket VR Health, said in a press release. “We are passionate about accelerating virtual reality research to address the unmet health needs of cancer patients and survivors. Collaborating with leading cancer centers and experts … will bring us one step closer to developing leading evidence-based digital therapeutics for cancer patients and survivors.”

Eight out of 10 patients with advanced cancer experience moderate to severe pain related to cancer, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. Moreover, approximately 55% of patients with cancer and 40% of cancer survivors experience chronic cancer-related pain, according to study results published in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

Recent research has also shown that pain management has worsened for patients with late-stage cancer.

People who practice mindfulness have been known to experience reductions in stress and anxiety, which is why the practice has been hypothesized to alleviate chronic cancer-related pain.

The team at Rocket VR Health has decided to partner with Dr. Linda Carlson, the Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology at University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine in Canada to conduct a study determining feasibility of a virtual reality-guided mindfulness intervention program in adults experiencing chronic cancer-related pain.

“Even in the face of something as difficult and life-threatening as cancer, mindfulness can be a tool for personal and collective growth and transformation,” Carlson said in the release. “Through the ‘Virtual Mind’ study, Rocket VR Health is helping us gauge the potential of virtual reality technologies to achieve meaningful clinical improvements for cancer patients.”

The plan for this portion of the study is to enroll 15 cancer survivors into a six-week, home-based program where the survivors will participate in approximately 15 minutes of daily virtual reality-guided mindfulness. The study authors will review psychosocial outcome measures including pain, sleep, depressive and anxiety symptoms, fatigue, quality of life and mindfulness before and after the study.

The results of this study, according to the release, will be used to design and conduct future studies to determine the efficacy of virtual reality guided mindfulness in treating symptoms related to quality of life and morbidity in patients with cancer.

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