06/06/2012 05:28 EDT | Updated 08/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Tablet computers help sedate young cancer patients during radiation treatments

CALGARY - Radiation therapists with Alberta Health Services are successfully using tablet computers to help keep kids calm during treatments.

A radiation therapy manager in Calgary says almost all pediatric patients under the age of seven used to be sedated before therapy.

But in the last year radiation therapists were able to eliminate sedation for five out of eight children between the ages of four and seven.

Mona Udowicz of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre says many young patients now remain relatively still as they watch a favourite movie, TV show or cartoon on their tablets.

A radiation session can last up to 30 minutes.

The tablets also appear to be soothing parents, who are relieved their children are not as upset during treatment.

"Reducing the amount of sedation used in young patients can have a major impact on their lives," Udowicz said.

"Sedation can affect a child throughout an entire day and make play and learning difficult or impossible. Eliminating sedation means these children can eat, go to school and generally be more active."

Shawna Feradi said the tablet computer has had a positive effect on her entire family because her six-year-old son, Jordan, no longer requires sedation before treatment.

"This was a huge benefit to us as the treatment times were much, much shorter," says Feradi. "It also allowed us to choose a time that worked with our other child's school schedule and not have to arrange child care for him or have my husband take even more time off of work."

Radiation therapist Amanda Jacques said many of the cancer kids she works with now enter the treatment room without fear and "eagerly select their movie."

Jacques led the tablet project with fellow radiation therapist Stacey Allan.

This year, about 50 children in southern Alberta are expected to undergo radiation therapy, which is used to control or kill malignant cells. Because radiation is being guided to the bad cells, patients must remain motionless during the procedure.