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HomeNuclearNews StoryVirtual Reality in Cancer Care: Bridging Gaps in Education and Training

Virtual Reality in Cancer Care: Bridging Gaps in Education and Training

Virtual reality goggles and the IAEA’s recently developed e-learning module “Patient Setup and Positioning for Cervical Cancer External Beam Radiotherapy”. (Photo: E. Harsdorf/IAEA)

This was the case in Mozambique, where IAEA debuted its virtual reality prototype in July 2023 during a national training course on high dose rate brachytherapy — a treatment that can be used for cervical cancer, which accounted for more than a third of the country’s new cancer cases in 2020. Under an IAEA project to strengthen the radiotherapy service at Maputo Hospital — Mozambique’s only facility equipped with an oncological ward — over a dozen medical professionals received this training.

“The brachytherapy unit was not yet operational to treat patients when we delivered the course, so the VR tool was a big help. It also gave the participants the chance to repeat certain e-learning modules right away, which you cannot do with a real patient, when every minute counts,” said Paulo Alfonso Varela Meléndez, one of the course’s instructors.

In a virtual environment, professionals can familiarize themselves with cancer treatment procedures, practice techniques and enhance their overall preparedness without direct patient involvement or before actual equipment is in place. This optimizes the overall learning experience and ensures that medical practitioners are well equipped to provide precise and effective care.

In Dakar, Senegal, the IAEA used its virtual reality tool in an e-contouring workshop it had organized during the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer’s (AORTIC) International Conference on Cancer in Africa. Through the training session on 3D brachytherapy for cervical cancer, over 160 radiation oncologists, medical physicists, dosimetrists and radiation therapists improved their practical medical knowledge and skills in outlining a patient’s organs and the tumour(s) that need treatment. For a continent which faces a disproportionate burden of cervical cancer deaths, the IAEA’s virtual reality model helps promote the safe, effective and efficient treatment of this disease.

“The 3D virtual reality tool is a crucial innovation, especially for early-career oncology professionals learning brachytherapy procedures. This model offers a patient- and radiation-free environment for learners to practice. Its easy-to-use and installation-free nature makes it invaluable in regions where radiotherapy facilities may be limited,” emphasized Ntokozo Ndlovu, one of the  workshop participants.

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