Dr. Gary Lewis, Dr. Arpan Prabu, and Melissa Peterman, RN, were awarded first place in the ABR Shark Tank competition with their proposal: “Using Virtual Reality to improve the patient experience during gynecologic brachytherapy.” The judging was a combination of audience reaction and a panel vote.
For patients with advanced cervical cancer, radiation therapy using a combination of external beam radiotherapy and brachytherapy with chemotherapy represents the only curative treatment option. Brachytherapy is a radiation treatment that involves the temporary placement of a radioactive material inside the body, in or near a tumor, for a specific amount of time. Patients who do not receive brachytherapy as part of their treatment course have inferior survival outcomes. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the use of brachytherapy for the treatment of cervical cancer over the past several decades; over one-third of patients do not receive it as recommended. Part of the reason for this decline is patients’ anxiety and fear of the procedure. Brachytherapy applicators must be inserted into a patient’s vaginal canal and cervix, resulting in discomfort and pain. While these symptoms can be managed to some degree with anxiolytic and opioid medications, these drugs do impart a risk of dependence, abuse, and addiction. Appropriately, there is significant interest in identifying alternative methods of minimizing pain and anxiety for procedures such as brachytherapy.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology is one proposed mechanism to soothe pain and anxiety during the peri-procedure period. VR technology has been demonstrated to reduce multiple types of pain: acute pain, pressure pain, multifactorial pain, and acute chronic pain. Clinically, VR technology has been successfully used in other medical and surgical procedures to reduce patient stress, procedural anxiety, pain, and the need for opioid pain medication. However, to date, no one has examined its use for brachytherapy to reduce the need for potentially addictive opioid pain medication. This pilot study will collect baseline feasibility data on the use VR technology for patients with cervical cancer undergoing brachytherapy and its effects on procedural anxiety/pain and the need for pain/anxiolytic medications.
Congratulations to Dr. Lewis and his team for this award!