Virtual reality has many possible uses in health care, including in pain management, physical and cognitive rehabilitation, and mental health care. In fact, past research has found that cancer patients may see a mental health boost from using virtual reality. A new study finds VR may also benefit cancer patients in other ways.
Research recently published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care investigated how immersive virtual reality can help people with chronic conditions. Immersive virtual reality helps players block out the physical reality they’re in and immerses them in a synthetic reality. The researchers wanted to see if the experience could help with psychological issues that can stem from chronic physical conditions. The team found that it may help lessen anxiety and pain in cancer patients, who made up the majority of study subjects.
The researchers write, “These findings are promising in a population at risk of polypharmacy, and suggest immersive VR can offer a non-pharmacological intervention that is considered acceptable by clinicians, caregivers, and patients. As VR systems become progressively more accessible, immersive VR interventions may begin to offer cost benefits compared with conventional pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments.”
The research involved an analysis of 31 studies, published between 1993 and 2023, that used VR on patients with chronic conditions like cancer, dementia, and multiple sclerosis. The studies focused on environment-based and game-based immersive VR that either aimed to relax patients before treatment, or to push skills or behaviors that could help them better cope with their conditions.
The analysis of these studies showed that it helped patients, including those with cancer and dementia, manage their medical treatments and the emotional impacts associated with them.
The researchers stress that further study is needed, and it’s unclear why VR may be beneficial, but their findings do point to several possible upsides of its use.
They write, “Our findings suggest that VR interventions are acceptable treatments that have the potential to improve physical and psychological consequences of physical illness. There is good quality research to suggest that these VR interventions are effective in reducing pain and distress, particularly among people with cancer.”
This backs up other research showing that VR could be comforting for cancer patients. You can read another study on the topic here.