Rare Disease Report

Watching Spongebob Better Than Anesthesia for Children Getting Radiation Therapy

MAY 11, 2017
James Radke
In the past, getting children to stay still for radiation therapy often required general anesthesia.
Not anymore – Letting them watch Spongebob or Cars could be all it takes.
A study presented by Catia Aguas, a radiation therapist and dosimetrist at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, Brussels, Belgium told the audience at European Society for Radiotherapy & Oncology 36th Annual Meeting (ESTRO 36) in Vienna, Austria that using video instead of general anesthesia is cheaper, faster, and less traumatic. 
Ina news release, Aguas said:

“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 anesthesia. 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 anesthesia.”
The study looked at 12 children (aged 1.5 – 6 years) treated with radiotherapy using a Tomotherapy treatment unit. Six were treated before a video projector was installed in 2014 and 6 were treated after. Before the video was available, general anesthesia was needed in 5 of the 6 children. Once video was available, anesthesia was only required in 2 of the 6 children.
There are a variety of advantages to using video over anesthesia.
First, the children are less anxious. The radiation therapy room can be a scary place for a child. If that room is associated with needles and pumps and additional prep work, the child will be nervous. But, if the room is associated with watching cartoons, the children are likely to be less anxious.
Aguas explained:

“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."
Second, videos can save time. The study found that radiation treatment can be done in 15 or 20 minutes when a child is watching a video. Contrast that with the 1 hour or more need if a general anesthetic is required.
Third, videos save money. There is no need for an anesthetic or an anesthesiologist.

Aguas 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. Using video is saving money and resources by reducing the need for anesthesia.”
Aguas and her colleagues plan to expand their program to include adults who are claustrophobic or anxious.
The 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 has reduced the need for anesthesia and reduced anxiety for these children. For parents this means they no longer must watch their child going under a general anesthetic and then in to 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 pediatric radiotherapy, which further increased the positive effect observed by the caregivers as well.”


Aguas C, et al. Video Launching during Irradiation – an alternative to anesthesia in pediatric patients? Presented at: European Society for Radiotherapy & Oncology 36th Annual Meeting (ESTRO 36); Vienna, Austria; May 5-9, 2017. Abstract OC-0546.

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