GETTING DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER can trigger anxiety, and going in for the first treatment can heighten that feeling. Research presented at the Oncology Nursing Society Congress in April 2023 suggests a safe and simple option for quelling fears before infusions: weighted blankets.

In the study, 75 cancer patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston covered themselves with a weighted blanket for 20 minutes before their first and second chemotherapy or immunotherapy infusions. Before and after using the blankets, participants answered survey questions about their anxiety levels, and they reported less anxiety after using the blanket than they did beforehand. In fact, 82% of patients reported very little or no anxiety after wearing a blanket compared with 63% before. Patients said they generally enjoyed using the 5-pound weighted blanket and noted it helped them to feel calm and secure.

The researchers are now planning to offer weighted blankets to more patients at Dana-Farber infusion clinics. “It’s a no-brainer for us,” says Megan Corbett, a nurse who specializes in working with oncology patients at Dana-Farber and one of the study’s authors. She notes weighted blankets are generally considered safe to use. A few patients have said the blankets feel too warm or too heavy, which can be quickly remedied by removing them.

Do It Yourself

Consider these factors when using a weighted blanket at home.

Using weighted blankets to reduce anxiety has been studied in other medical settings, with evidence suggesting their pressure can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing the body and creating a sense of calm. Research on their use in oncology is just beginning, says Allison de Villiers, a nurse specializing in oncology care at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus who is running a separate clinical trial evaluating weighted blanket use during chemotherapy. Although more research is needed, she suggests infusion patients could benefit from using weighted blankets as soon as they sit down for treatment.