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The National Cancer Center Hospital is introducing a virtual-reality exposure therapy to ease cancer patients’ pain and nausea, according to hospital officials.

Together with Mitsubishi Electric Corp., the hospital in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district has developed a special device allowing patients to experience a virtual-reality environment while in bed, with tests on a group of patients yielding promising results, the officials said.

The therapy makes patients feel as if they are going for a walk in the woods by projecting onto a screen in front of them images of a forest.

Virtual-reality technology allows the projected image to advance step by step. A mild breeze blows on the viewer’s face and birdcalls and the rustling of leaves are also audible.

The center had 22 cancer outpatients undergo the virtual-reality therapy in 1999 and 2000. They were suffering from nausea due to concerns about chemotherapy they were about to receive, and antinausea medicine had little effect on them. Some cancer patients experience nausea in anticipation of chemotherapy, which often causes nausea. and other complications.

The virtual-reality therapy eased the nausea for all 22, who were exposed to the therapy before receiving chemotherapy, compared with another 22 who did not receive the virtual-reality treatment. , the officials said.

In a separate clinical test, some patients said their pain was also alleviated by the virtual-reality therapy.

As a next step, the hospital is scheduled to conduct another clinical test to examine different effects of the virtual reality therapy, such as relaxing patients before surgery.

Naohito Shimoyama, a doctor at the center in charge of pain control, said the advantage of the virtual-reality therapy is that it does not cause side effects.

“Even though it is impossible to eliminate pain with this device, I suppose it can ease pain which has been increased due to nervousness and anxiety,” he said.

Drugs such as morphine are usually used to alleviate pain in cancer patients, but Shimoyama pointed out that pain can also be controlled by diverting patients’ attention and relaxing them.

The World Health Organization introduced the virtual-reality therapy in its 1998 report on pain control for child cancer patients.

Shimoyama also hopes to examine the effects of the therapy on patients who suffer from symptoms such as numbness that are not easily cured by drugs.

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