Watching movies may be a calmer and cheaper alternative to general anaesthesia for children undergoing radiotherapy to treat cancer, a new study suggests. Children could be spared dozens of doses of general anaesthesia by projecting a video directly on to the inside of a radiotherapy machine during treatment, researchers said. “Since we started using videos, children are a lot less anxious. Now they know that they are going to watch a movie of their choice, they are more relaxed and once the movie starts it is as though they travel to another world,” said Catia Aguas from Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc in Belgium. Researchers observed 12 children aged between one and a half and six years old who were treated with radiotherapy using a Tomotherapy treatment unit at the university hospital.
Six were treated before a video projector was installed and six were treated after. Researchers found that before the video was available, general anaesthesia was needed for 83 per cent of children’s treatments. However, once the projector was installed, anaesthesia was only needed in 33 per cent of the treatments, researchers said. “Radiotherapy can be very scary for children. It is a huge room full of machines and strange noises, and the worst part is that they are in the room alone during their treatment,” said Aguas.
“Before their radiotherapy treatment, they have already been through a series of tests and treatments, some of them painful, so when they arrive for radiotherapy they do not really feel very safe or confident,” she said. Along with avoiding some of the risks inherent to general anaesthesia, the research also showed that treatments that used to take one hour or more, now take around 15 to 20 minutes. This is partly because of the time saved by not having to prepare and administer anaesthesia, but also because the children who know they are going to watch videos are more cooperative, researchers said.
“Now in our clinic, video has almost completely replaced anaesthesia, resulting in reduced treatment times and reduction of stress for the young patients and their families,” Aguas said. It is also a cheaper alternative as the projector used was inexpensive and simple to install, researchers said. “In radiotherapy, everything is usually very expensive but in this case it was not. We bought a projector and, with the help of college students, we created a support to fix the device to the patient couch,” Aguas said.
“Using video is saving money and resources by reducing the need for anaesthesia,” she said. Although cancer is rare in children, worldwide there are about 2,15,000 new cases in the under 15s each year. Around a sixth of these children require treatment with radiotherapy, including those with brain tumours, and bone and soft tissue sarcomas such as Ewing sarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.