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IN THE NEWS:Hypnosis and Its Use in Cancer Treatment

Many people have an incomplete or erroneous understanding of what exactly is hypnosis, and how it may be used in the treatment of cancer. This article will take a cursory look at hypnosis and where it may be used to offer an alternative and side-effect–free management of several aspects of care that can be beneficial to patients with cancer. 

Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

There are many definitions of hypnosis. This is a compilation of the most useful definitions: Hypnosis is a focused state of attention, where the subject is highly relaxed physically while the mind is alert, curious, and open to suggestions.1

The therapy in hypnosis relates to the actual suggestions offered to the patient. The skill of the hypnotherapist is the ability to place the patient in a trance — the deeper the better — and then offer relevant suggestions related to the patient’s treatment. The success of the treatment is a combination of the relevance of the suggestions, the depth of the trance, and the strength of the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the patient.

Use of Hypnosis Before Medical Treatment

Patients with cancer will experience specific symptoms upon being told their diagnosis. These may include anxiety, stress, depression, fear, and loss of control. Hypnosis can alleviate these symptoms. Patients about to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy may find that hypnotherapy can drastically reduce or eliminate the side effects of these treatments such as nausea, tiredness, etc. Hypnotherapy can help patients relax, and better cope with treatment and pain.

Hypnotherapy and Cancer

Patients with cancer frequently experience pain, sickness, nausea, and for women with breast cancer, hot flashes, loss of self-esteem, and fear of surgery. These and other benefits have been researched and presented to the medical community:

  • Reduced pain and stress associated with the cancer itself.
  • A decrease in the after-effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments
  • Improved mental state with less stress, less anxiety, and the feeling of a greater control and acceptance of the situation
  • Better postsurgical response measured as decrease in pain requiring less medication, less tiredness, and a faster healing from the surgery itself

It would make sense that pain and anxiety are closely related, and anything that lessens one will also lessen the other. Patients who undergo hypnosis before surgery or before chemotherapy or radiation therapy generally heal faster, experience less pain and therefore need less pain medication, and are less anxious about their situation.

The book Getting Well Again (Bantam Books; 1978) details what may have been the first end-stage cancer treatment research that included hypnotherapy. A literature review of studies conducted on the use of hypnotic techniques on pain management found that 75% of the participants in the studies reported less pain compared with the control groups.3 Another study in that literature review also reported that participants experienced less anxiety, less pain, less blood loss, and less postoperative nausea and vomiting.3

Patients with cancer can use hypnosis to activate and trigger their immune system and aid their body in fighting the disease. Patients are often given instructions on using guided imagery to visualize their immune system working with their treatment to defeat the disease and eliminate toxins from their body.

Positive Effects

Hypnosis has, over time and across many instances, been shown to improve both clinical and cost outcomes connected to cancer treatment. Unfortunately, there have been very few studies that examined and isolated hypnosis as a researched treatment for cancer overall. One highly quoted study measured the effects of hypnosis just on women patients who were undergoing biopsy. This study indicated that women who underwent hypnosis experienced lower levels of anxiety and pain during the procedure (with no increase in the cost). These patients also experienced less postbiopsy pain and irritation than the control group.3

Conclusions

Hypnotherapy is an often misunderstood and overlooked treatment option with no known side effects and no reported negative consequences. There are many benefits of hypnosis that are supported by research findings, as well as many anecdotal reports of benefits that are yet to be investigated. Generally, the hypnotist and the patient work together to determine what goals hypnosis will attempt to achieve.

by: Tall Marcus, LMSW

References

1. Elkins G, Fisher W, Sliwinsky J. Clinical hypnosis for the palliative care of cancer patients. Oncology (Williston Park). 2012;26(8 suppl nurse ed):26-30. http://www.cancernetwork.com/oncology-nursing/clinical-hypnosis-palliative-care-cancer-patient. Accessed January 11, 2017.

2. Hypnosis, meditation, and relaxation for pain treatment. WebMD web site. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/hypnosis-meditation-and-relaxation-for-pain-treatment#1. Reviewed on August 1, 2016. Accessed January 11, 2016.

3. Montgomery GH, Schnur JB, Kravits K. Hypnosis for cancer care: over 200 years young. CA Cancer J Clin. 2013;63(1):31-41. doi: 10.3322/caac.21165.