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Immersive Virtual Reality Beneficial for Pain Relief in Cancer


VR provides more nonpharmacologic pain relief than an active control, and the benefit was sustained

By Elana Gotkine HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 8, 2024 (HealthDay News) — For hospitalized patients with cancer, immersive virtual reality (VR) distraction therapy is associated with a greater reduction in pain compared with an active control, according to a study published online April 8 in Cancer.

Hunter Groninger, M.D., from MedStar Health Research Institute in Hyattsville, Maryland, and colleagues conducted a prospective randomized controlled trial comparing VR to an active control to mitigate moderate-to-severe cancer disease and treatment-related pain among 128 adult hospitalized patients with cancer. Participants were randomly assigned to 10 minutes of immersive VR distraction therapy or 10 minutes of two-dimensional guided imagery distraction therapy. In terms of age, sex, race, presence of metastatic disease, concurrent pain specialist consultation, and baseline opioid use, participants in the two arms were similar.

The researchers found that improvement in self-reported pain scores were experienced by both groups, although the reduction in pain immediately after the intervention was significantly greater in those assigned to VR versus the active control. The difference was sustained for 24 hours. In addition, there was significant improvement in pain bothersomeness and general distress seen in the VR arm.

“Results from this trial suggest that immersive VR may be a useful nonmedication strategy to improve the cancer pain experience,” Groninger said in a statement. “While this study was conducted among hospitalized patients, future studies should also evaluate VR pain therapies in outpatient settings and explore the impact of different VR content to improve different types of cancer-related pain in different patient populations.”

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