DURHAM,N.C. — Chemotherapy can be a life-saving treatment for cancer, but it takes a severe toll on the body. Now, virtual reality is providing very real relief.
For most patients, chemotherapy leaves them feeling nauseated and fatigued. Symptoms can start the moment the treatment begins.
"I could taste this horrible taste and they said it was a result of the chemotherapy, in my mouth and I could smell it. And I felt this coldness going through my body," said Donna Honeycutt, a breast cancer patient.
Research shows being anxious about chemotherapy can make it worse and some patients cannot endure all the treatments they need.
"If they can do something to take their mind off the stresses of the chemotherapy treatment, then often their symptoms are better," said Dr. Susan Schneider of the Duke University School of Nursing.
Duke University School of Nursing conducted a study to see if virtual reality might be an effective distraction. During the treatment, participants wore a headset attached to a computer that offered virtual tours of scenic beaches and deep-sea diving.
Honeycutt said the distraction worked.
"I just didn't get sick. I did not get nauseated. I did not get violently ill like most people. And I think it's because you separate yourself from that initially," she said.
Chemotherapy patients often spend hours in the clinic. The study found virtual reality helped make time pass more quickly and reduced the side effects.
"In fact, we did find that their symptoms of stress during chemotherapy improved and they had less symptoms such as fatigue," Schneider said.
Duke experts said other distractions, like reading, can also work. More studies are needed to find out what distraction is best for each patient.
Honeycutt said virtual reality worked for her.
Researchers used G-rated, interactive virtual reality programs. They avoided fast-action visuals, that can cause dizziness and nausea -- the very symptoms patients want to avoid.