Children with cancer could be spared dozens of doses of general anaesthesia by projecting a video directly on to the inside of a radiotherapy machine during treatment, according to a recent research. Catia Aguas from the Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, Brussels, Belgium, told the ESTRO 36 conference that using video instead of general anaesthesia is less traumatic for children and their families, as well as making each treatment quicker and more cost effective. She explained that being treated with radiotherapy means coming in for a treatment every weekday for four to six weeks. The children need to remain motionless during treatment and, on the whole, that means a general anaesthesia. That in turn means they have to keep their stomach empty for six hours before the treatment.
“We wanted to see if installing a projector and letting children watch a video of their choice would allow them to keep still enough that we would not need to give them anaesthesia,” Aguas added. The study included 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 in 2014 and six were treated after. Before the video was available, general anaesthesia was needed for 83 percent of children’s treatments. Once the projector was installed, anaesthesia was only needed in 33 percent of treatments.
Aguas continued: “Radiotherapy can be very scary for children. It’s a huge room full of machines and strange noises, and the worst part is that they’re in the room alone during their treatment. 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 don’t really feel very safe or confident.”
“Since we started using videos, children are a lot less anxious. Now they know that they’re going to watch a movie of their choice, they’re more relaxed and once the movie starts it’s as though they travel to another world. Sponge Bob, Cars and Barbie have been popular movie choices with our patients,” she added.
As well as 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.