Hypnosis Relieves Pain in Breast Cancer Patients
Women who are being treated for breast cancer experience physical and emotional pain and suffering, which can be treated effectively with hypnosis. That’s according to Lisa D. Butler, associate professor at University at Buffalo School of Social Work, who conducted a year-long study of the use of hypnosis in women with metastatic breast cancer.
Butler and her team enrolled 124 women with metastatic breast cancer in their randomized trial, whose goal was to measure pain and suffering, as well as frequency of pain and the degree of constant pain. The measures were gathered at four-month intervals for one year. Patients with breast cancer who were assigned to the hypnosis group also received group psychotherapy and education along with instruction and practice in hypnosis. Women in the control group received education sessions only.
The women in the hypnosis treatment group reported “significantly less increase in the intensity of pain and suffering over time” when compared with women in the control group. Practice of hypnosis did not, however, reduce the frequency or constancy of the women’s episodes of pain.
The researchers also noted that the women who were more easily hypnotized reported greater benefits from the experience than those who were less “hypnotizable.” Women who were more easily hypnotized used hypnosis more overall, and some women even reported using it to treat other symptoms related to their breast cancer.
This study is not the first to reveal benefits associated with hypnosis in breast cancer patients. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2008), researchers found that hypnosis appeared to reduce hot flashes in breast cancer survivors and may also help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve sleep.
In a 2008 study conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, investigators found that a brief session of hypnosis before surgery for breast cancer can be effective in reducing presurgical distress.
The National Cancer Institute notes that nearly 200,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women each year, with more than 40,000 women dying of the disease. Breast cancer commonly spreads to the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. Cancer that spreads to the bones is likely to cause pain, while shortness of breath may be a sign that the lungs are involved. Abdominal swelling is a sign that cancer has spread to the liver, while cancer that spreads to the brain may cause headaches and seizures.
Butler notes that the results of her study add to the growing amount of evidence that supports the use of hypnosis as complementary treatment for people who experience pain. Specifically, it suggests that the pain and suffering experience by women with metastatic breast cancer “can be successfully reduced with an intervention that includes hypnosis in a group therapy setting.”
Butler LD et al. Health Psychology 2009 Sep; 28(5): 579-87
Elkins G et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2008 Nov 1; 26(31): 5022-26
National Cancer Institute
Schnur JB et al. Anesthesia and Analgesia 2008 Feb; 106(2): 440-44
University at Buffalo news release, Feb. 24, 2010