Cancer is a devastating and deadly disease claiming 7.6 million lives around the world each year and finding 12.7 million new victims diagnosed with the disease. The three words no one ever wants to hear in their lifetime are, “You have cancer.” It’s tragic enough when an older adult discovers they have cancer and will have to fight an uphill battle for their lives, but when a child with so many years ahead of them is diagnosed with cancer, it’s all the more devastating. Some children diagnosed with cancer are too young to even fully understand the disease, only knowing that it will involve pain and discomfort.
Luckily, even if scientific research has not yet arrived at a cure for cancer, there are many powerful and effective treatments in use today. One of the most common forms of treatment, particularly in combination with other treatments, is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is primarily used to treat localized cancers concentrated in a single area of the body. High-energy rays aimed from a machine target and destroy cancer cells while sparing as many healthy cells as possible. While there are both short and long-term risks and side effects associated with using radiation to treat cancer, as there are with just about all treatments, radiation therapy has a high success rate and is given to more than half of all cancer patients.
All that being said, the procedure for receiving radiation therapy can be scary, especially for children. It is typically given five times a week, for about five to eight weeks and patients must lay within a huge, tube-like machine to receive the treatments, which last about 10 minutes. During this time, they must remain absolutely still for the treatment to be effective. Even for the most well-behaved children, remaining still while under a great deal of stress and nervousness is no easy task. That is why many kids under the age of 15 undergoing radiation therapy are given anesthesia. Take into account that they receive the treatments almost daily for several weeks, and that is a huge dose of anesthesia for a child, which can come with its own set of side-effects.
According to a new study from the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO), movies projected in the machine during treatments may be a more powerful antidote than anesthesia for children. According to ESTRO, movies help to distract kids from their fears and are “less traumatic for children and their families, as well as making each treatment quicker and more cost effective.”
The researchers of the study tested out their theory on 12 child cancer patients between the ages of 18 month and 6 years, with six of the children watching movies while receiving radiation, and found that the children without videos required anesthesia 83 percent of the time, while those with videos needed it only 33 percent of the time. Though the study involved a small trial size, it demonstrates the success of videos in radiation therapy. The next step, the researchers say, will be to test out videos for anxious or claustrophobic adults receiving radiation therapy.
Check out the video below for a visual demonstration!