Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.
A study using virtual reality to reduce stress and anxiety caused by cancer and cancer treatment (SafeSpace)
Researchers wanted to find out whether a virtual reality (VR) experience could help improve wellbeing and quality of life. It was for people to use during or after treatment for cancer.
This study was open for people to join between 2018 and 2019. The team published the results in 2022.
More about this trial
Cancer and cancer treatments can affect people’s physical and mental health.
Research had already shown that virtual reality (VR) can help reduce pain, discomfort or distress in some people. The study team wanted to find out if this was true for people having treatment for cancer.
In this study, the researchers developed and tested a virtual reality intervention. People used a virtual reality headset and a smartphone to access it. It included a series of guided exercises to help people relax.
There were 2 parts to this study.
The aim of part 1 was to come up with the ideas about what to include as part of the virtual reality experience.
The aim of part 2 was to test the virtual reality experience for people with cancer.
Summary of results
This study was for people who were having, or had finished, treatment for cancer.
The people in part 1 attended workshops to help with ideas for the virtual reality experience.
The people in part 2 tested the virtual reality experience once it had been developed. This involved using a virtual reality headset and a mobile phone.
Those in part 2 completed a number of questionnaires before and after using the virtual reality headset. These questionnaires asked them about things such as their:
- levels of stress, anxiety or depression
- level of tiredness (fatigue)
- overall mood
- overall quality of life
- feelings of well being
They also measured physical signs of stress such as heart rate and sweating.
The research team then looked at all the results to see if there were any changes.
They also talked to 11 people on the phone, to find out more about what they thought of the experience.
A total of 32 people joined this study.
There were 11 people in part 1. The research team ran 5 workshops over 6 months. There were between 3 and 7 people at each workshop.
There were 21 people in part 2. One person didn’t use the virtual reality headset. The other 20 people used it between 1 and 3 times. The sessions were a week apart.
They could choose between 3 settings - beach, mountain or forest. The beach setting was the most popular.
The research team found that using the virtual reality headset:
- improved mood
- increased well being
- decreased stress levels
They also found that people were happy to use the virtual reality headset. They found it comfortable and quite easy to use.
Some people found it a bit tricky to concentrate on the virtual reality experience in a hospital setting. But some people found the background hospital noise reassuring.
Two people felt slightly dizzy and sick while they were using the headset. But this didn’t last too long after they stopped the session.
The study team concluded that people were happy to use the virtual reality headset. And that it helped improve some people’s quality of life.
They suggest a larger trial is done to find out more about how helpful it could be. They also suggest that it might be useful to look at using virtual reality in people’s homes.
More detailed information
There is more information about this research in the link below.
Please note, the article below is not in plain English. It has been written for health care professionals and researchers.
SafeSpace: what is the feasibility and acceptability of a codesigned virtual reality intervention, incorporating compassionate mind training, to support people undergoing cancer treatment in a clinical setting?
G O’Gara and others
BMJ Open. Published online 2022. Volume 12, Issue 2.
Where this information comes from
We have based this summary on the information in the article above. This has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Professor Theresa Wiseman
Macmillan Cancer Support
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust