Virtual Reality: A Distraction Intervention for Chemotherapy

Susan M. Schneider

Linda E. Hood

interventions, symptom distress, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer
ONF 2007, 34(1), 39-46. DOI: 10.1188/07.ONF.39-46

Purpose/Objectives: To explore virtual reality (VR) as a distraction intervention to relieve symptom distress in adults receiving chemotherapy treatments for breast, colon, and lung cancer.

Design: Crossover design in which participants served as their own control.

Setting: Outpatient clinic at a comprehensive cancer center in the southeastern United States.

Sample: 123 adults receiving initial chemotherapy treatments.

Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to receive the VR distraction intervention during one chemotherapy treatment and then received no intervention (control) during an alternate matched chemotherapy treatment. The Adapted Symptom Distress Scale-2, Revised Piper Fatigue Scale, and State Anxiety Inventory were used to measure symptom distress. The Presence Questionnaire and an open-ended questionnaire were used to evaluate the subjects' VR experience. The influence of type of cancer, age, and gender on symptom outcomes was explored. Mixed models were used to test for differences in levels of symptom distress.

Main Research Variables: Virtual reality and symptom distress.

Findings: Patients had an altered perception of time (p < 0.001) when using VR, which validates the distracting capacity of the intervention. Evaluation of the intervention indicated that patients believed the headmounted device was easy to use, they experienced no cybersickness, and 82% would use VR again. However, analysis demonstrated no significant differences in symptom distress immediately or two days following chemotherapy treatments.

Conclusions: Patients stated that using VR made the treatment seem shorter and that chemotherapy treatments with VR were better than treatments without the distraction intervention. However, positive experiences did not result in a decrease in symptom distress. The findings support the idea that using VR can help to make chemotherapy treatments more tolerable, but clinicians should not assume that use of VR will improve chemotherapy-related symptoms.

Implications for Nursing: Patients found using VR during chemotherapy treatments to be enjoyable. VR is a feasible and cost-effective distraction intervention to implement in the clinical setting.

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