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Disney movies may help female cancer patients cope with chemo

Audrey Abella
15 Jun 2020

Watching Disney movies during chemotherapy (CT) may improve emotional and social functioning and fatigue in women with gynaecologic cancers, a study has shown.

Maintaining a positive disposition during CT is imperative, as it can be physically and psychologically taxing. [Gynecol Oncol 2017;147:433-438] While music has been implicated as beneficial in this scenario, movies affect more senses than music alone. [Support Care Cancer 2019;27:4207-4212; J Child Media 2018;12:159-174] “Disney movies provide not only the music component … but also a distraction for >1 hour,” said the researchers.

After six CT sessions, women who watched Disney movies felt less tense, irritable, depressed, and worried than those who did not, based on their improved emotional functioning scores (mean, 86.9 vs 66.3; maximum test p=0.02). The distraction for at least a third of the treatment duration may have influenced this response. [JAMA Network Open 2020;3:e204568]

Watching Disney movies also appeared to be associated with less encroachment on family life and social activities, as reflected by the social functioning score (mean, 86.1 vs 63.6; maximum test p=0.01). The investigators attributed this improvement to known positive coping strategies (ie, accepting support, active problem solving) highly present in Disney movies. [Soc Sci 2018;7:199]

Fatigue symptoms also improved among those who watched Disney movies vs those who did not, rendering them less drained and frustrated (mean score, 85.5 vs 66.4; maximum test p=0.01).

EORTC QLQ-C30* scores significantly improved in both Disney/control arms from the first CT session vs the last (mean, 72/69 vs 88/70; p=0.001). When compared against data evaluating women without cancer, those in the Disney arm apparently had better quality of life than healthy subjects. [Eur J Cancer 2019;107:153-163] “This is surprising … Hypothetically, it might be associated with [the] short-term effect of the movies on self-perception and hope,” noted the researchers.

 

A step back in time

Fifty-six women were randomized 1:1 to watch Disney movies** produced between 1950 and 1989, or not, during six CT cycles (one movie/cycle). Of these, 50 completed the study. Older Disney movies were purposely chosen as these were more likely to incite memories of the past and have slower storylines than newer ones. “There is a certain nostalgia about Disney movies … that may help alleviate the fear of the present,” they said.

The movie selection also featured stories highlighting courage and bittersweet yet happy endings, suggesting that despite the doom and gloom, the characters can rise above adversities without necessarily resolving them. [Omega Westport 2019;80:49-68] “They are more about accepting change than about heroically overcoming all odds,” they added.

However, the small female population may have presented certain limitations. Not allowing control participants to watch any movie was also deemed “restrictive and unrealistic”. Consistency was also not evaluated as the study ended as the CT cycles ended.

“[Nonetheless,] even if … our patients already have developed coping mechanisms in the past, offering new [choices may be helpful],” said the researchers. The results may also influence counselling strategies targeting this population.

 

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