Watching Movies May Replace General Anesthesia for Kids with Cancer

While it is no surprise that children of all ages enjoy animated movies and TV shows like Disney’s Cars, Spongebob Squarepants, and Despicable Me, watching these types of movies may replace general anesthesia for kids with cancer, according to a recent study. Research presented at the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology 36 (i.e. “ESTRO”) conference, showed results of a study involving 12 children between the ages of 18 months and 6 years receiving radiation treatment for different types of cancer.

While cancer in children is relatively rare, with about 215,000 new cases each year, about a sixth of those children require treatment with radiotherapy. During these treatments, children are required to remain motionless, which is often a challenge, as any parent will tell you who’s had to give their kids medicine, let alone administering radiation treatment. General anesthesia is used to keep the children still, which can be costly and requires the children to fast for at least 6 hours before the treatment. While this can be challenging, watching movies may replace general anesthesia for kids with cancer as it has some of the same side effects needed to administer the treatment. Catia Aguas, a radiation therapist and dosimetrist at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, Brussels, Belgium, says “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 anesthesia.”

In the study, six of the children received treatment before a video projector was installed and six children received treatment while watching their favorite movie. Before the video was available, general anesthesia was needed for 83% of the treatments, and after projector was installed, anesthesia was needed in only 33% of treatments.

“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.” said Aguas.

President of ESTRO, Professor Yolande Lievens, head of the department of radiation oncology at Ghent University Hospital, Belgium, said: “The success of this project is good news for young patients, their families and their medical teams. Simply by installing a projector and showing videos, the team have reduced the need for anesthesia and reduced anxiety for these children. For parents this means they no longer have to watch their child going under a general anesthetic and then into the recovery room after treatment every day for weeks on end. In addition, the use of videos had a positive impact on the workflow in paediatric radiotherapy, which further increased the positive effect observed by the caregivers as well.”

Watching movies may replace general anesthesia for kids with cancer, and could be used for adults as well. Researchers are continuing with this study and plan to include adults who may be claustrophobic or anxious about their treatments.  While these children still did require some anesthesia, the amount was less which can ease the minds of parents and caregivers. If you or a loved one is preparing for a procedure, click here to visit our anesthesia information page to learn more.