Virtual reality and surgical oncology

23 Mar 2023
Peng Yun Ng, Eric G Bing, Anthony Cuevas, Ajay Aggarwal, Benjamin Chi, Sudha Sundar, Mulindi Mwanahamuntu, Miriam Mutebi, Richard Sullivan, Groesbeck P Parham

More than 80% of people diagnosed with cancer will require surgery. However, less than 5% have access to safe, affordable and timely surgery in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) settings mostly due to the lack of trained workforce. Since its creation, virtual reality (VR) has been heralded as a viable adjunct to surgical training, but its adoption in surgical oncology to date is poorly understood. We undertook a systematic review to determine the application of VR across different surgical specialties, modalities and cancer pathway globally between January 2011 and 2021. We reviewed their characteristics and respective methods of validation of 24 articles. The results revealed gaps in application and accessibility of VR with a proclivity for high-income countries and high-risk, complex oncological surgeries. There is a lack of standardisation of clinical evaluation of VR, both in terms of clinical trials and implementation science. While all VR illustrated face and content validity, only around two-third exhibited construct validity and predictive validity was lacking overall. In conclusion, the asynchrony between VR development and actual global cancer surgery demand means the technology is not effectively, efficiently and equitably utilised to realise its surgical capacity-building potential. Future research should prioritise cost-effective VR technologies with predictive validity for high demand, open cancer surgeries required in LMICs.

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