"Targeted video games can help improve the lives of young people with cancer, most importantly improve their adherence to their treatment," Dr. Pamela M. Kato of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
Adherence is a major problem in this age group, Kato and her colleagues point out in their report. While dramatic improvements in survival have been seen in pediatric cancer patients, they add, death rates among teens and young adult patients have not followed this trend. "They're kind of a tough group that gets a little bit lost in the system," Kato said.
To investigate whether playing a video game might help, the researchers randomly assigned 375 male and female patients 13 to 29 years old being treated at centers in the US, Canada and Australia to play "Re-Mission" or "Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb," a standard video game not focused on cancer care.
In Re-Mission (http://www2.re-mission.net), developed by HopeLab, a Redwood City, California-based non-profit company, players control a tiny robot called Roxxi who moves around in a 3-D environment representing the inside of the body of a young cancer patient. Players can use Roxxi to blast cancer cells and control side effects, and winning the game requires taking chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics, using relaxation techniques, eating food, and keeping up with other types of self-care.
Patients in both groups were asked to play their assigned game for at least an hour a week, and 22 percent of those in the comparison group and 33 percent of those in the Re-Mission group actually did so over the course of the 3-month study.
Electronic pill monitoring showed a 16 percent rise in antibiotic adherence in the Re-Mission group, who took 62.3 percent of their total prescribed antibiotic medications, compared to 52.5 percent for the Indiana Jones group. Adherence to a standard chemotherapy drug was also higher in the Re-Mission group.
Playing Re-Mission was tied to improvements in cancer-related knowledge as well, the authors note.
According to Kato, the game worked because it gave the patients a new way of looking at their illness; for example, thinking of chemo as a way to combat cancer, rather than as an annoyance that makes their hair fall out. "To me it was kind of changing their reward system for taking chemo and giving them a different insight," she explained.
The game can be downloaded free from the Web site by patients and medical professionals.