Research: Hypnosis for Cancer

Hypnosis can help patients heal: Study

First posted: Sunday, June 12, 2011 1:22:51 EDT PM

A combination of hypnosis and local anesthesia can help the healing process for patients who have undergone surgery, Belgium researchers say.

In a study presented Sunday at the European Anaesthesiology Congress in Amsterdam, researchers used hypnosis and local anaesthesia on patients who had breast cancer surgery and in thyroidectomy (removal of all or part of the thyroid gland).

"In all of these procedures local anaesthesia is feasible but not, on its own, sufficient to ensure patient comfort," researcher Fabienne Roelants said.

In the breast cancer study, 18 out of 78 women had hypnosis, while the rest had general anesthetic. The study found that although the patients who were hypnotized and had local anaesthesia spent a few minutes more in the operating theatre, drug use in the first group was greatly diminished, as was time in the recovery room and hospital stay.

In the thyroid study, the researchers compared the outcomes of 18 patients in the hypnosis and local anaesthesia group with 36 who had general anesthetic. Once again drug use, recovery room and hospital stay times were greatly reduced among the hypnosis and local anaesthesia group.

"In addition to reducing drug use and hospital stay time, being able to avoid general anaesthesia in breast cancer surgery is important because we know that local anaesthesia can block the body's stress response to surgery and could therefore reduce the possible spread of metastases," Roelants said.

"There is still a lot of debate around the exact mechanism that allows hypnosis to reduce pain perception," Roelants added. "But what it absolutely clear is that it does so."

He noted that one third of thyroidectomies and a quarter of all breast cancer surgery carried out at the UCL hospital in Brussels are performed under local anaesthetic with the patient under hypnosis.


Relaxation techniques help fearful patients

By POHLA SMITH - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Posted: July 09, 2010 at 1:28 pm

The Positive Health Clinic at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh gets its share of people with an acute fear of needles. There have been patients who scream or even pass out during the nerve-wracking 15 minutes or more it takes to draw about 20 tubes of blood that will tell HIV-positive patients the state of their illness.

But registered nurse Terry Lang has found a way to help some of them get past their needle phobia: the deep-breathing relaxation technique she and 13 other doctors and staff members learned in recent training with the famed Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. So far Lang has done relaxation breathing coupled with imagery, or visualization, of a nice place the patients would like to be with three of her needle-phobic patients. The results have been remarkable. "The three I've done have been half-asleep -- in a place where they're half-awake, half-asleep," she said. "Once the needle is out, I tell them we're going to leave the nice place." After a few more breaths, she tells them it is time to awake. "They feel really positive, relaxed, amazed at what's happened," she said. "They've been petrified of needles. ... (Now) they say, 'We'll never be afraid of having it done again.'"

And that's an example of what mind-body medicine, also called integrated medicine, is all about. It's a recognition that the mind, body and spirit all work together in the healing process.

"I think that (the needle phobics' experiences) is a great example because the thing about this stuff is that it all sounds like a great idea, but people ask how practical is it?" said Dr. Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, medical director of Allegheny's Integrated Medicine Program and the person behind getting approval for the Benson-Henry Institute training.

"In certain settings it's very practical. ... "This stuff matters. A patient should not have to come in and have a horrible experience every time they have their blood drawn." And a doctor or staffer should not be so stressed that it interferes with his or her interaction with the patient. That's part of the mission of the staff who had the Benson-Henry training: To not only do the relaxation technique with patients bedside and, eventually, with families in waiting rooms, but to do it -- and teach it -- to other staff. O'Neill is just now beginning to hear that some of those staff have reached the point where they are ready to work or are already working with patients at bedside.

Oncology nurse JC McFarland, who has practiced breath work and yoga for a number of years, recently did visualization and deep breathing with breast cancer patient Ethel Taylor, 70.

"Let everything relax. ... Let the weight of your body let you fall into the bed," McFarland said to Taylor in a quiet, melodic voice. "As you relax ... begin by taking easy breaths ...

"Breathing in ... and breathing out. ... Breathing in ... and breathing out ..." McFarland's words had a soothing rhythm. "Breathing in ... and breathing out. ...

In that little space between the breaths it is peaceful and calm and still." Taylor continued to breathe to the rhythm of McFarland's words. The nurse told her to put her hand over her heart and feel the part of herself "that takes on challenges, the part that gives you the ability to survive, to stay calm or to feel good about yourself."

In that same melodic voice, McFarland told Taylor that several times during the day she should return her dominant hand to her heart and "connect with your inner strength.

"Now come back into the room with me. Bring peace, confidence and the pride you might feel that you were able to do this ... five ... four ... three ... two ... and one." Taylor, whose cancer has metastasized to her bones, opened her eyes.

Later she said the breathing allowed her to feel "just the calmness over my body. This morning when I woke up I was scattered, but I knew I was going to have (breathing) so I felt relaxed. ... Now I have no cares. I have no worries. ... I don't have any pain at all this morning." Reach Pohla Smith at psmith(at)


Learning to relax, cope extends cancer survival Reuters, 6/9/2010

(Chicago) Working with a psychologist to reduce stress can help women whose breast cancer comes back survive longer, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

They said reducing stress during breast cancer treatment can keep the immune system strong and improve a woman's quality of life -- and these two factors help women live longer.

They found women who took part in a support group where they were taught to cope with their stress through relaxation techniques and problem solving lived an average of six months longer than other women.

"If you have someone who can provide effective, research-supported ways to reduce your stress, not only will that affect your mental health. It will likely affect your symptoms and your recovery," said Barbara Andersen, a psychology professor at Ohio State University in Columbus.

The study is rare because while it makes sense that therapy might ease some of the stress of cancer treatment, few studies have shown it can boost a woman's survival.

The findings appear in the journal Cancer Clinical Research.

The study included 227 women with newly diagnosed Stage II or III breast cancer.

Women in the study got either a psychological assessment or therapy that helped them understand their stress, learn ways to cope with it, stay on their cancer treatment, improve communication with their doctor and generally feel better emotionally during their treatment and recovery.

"It was far more than the popular notion of support groups of patients in a room talking about their troubles," Andersen said in a telephone interview.

"Certain patients talked about things that were stressful to them, but they also learned really effective ways to cope with that stress."

For example, women were taught relaxation techniques that helped lower stress levels. They were counseled on how to assess the individual strengths of people in their support network -- knowing which people can be counted on for emotional support and which would be most reliable if the woman needed a ride to therapy.


The support group met weekly for four months, than monthly for a total of a year. In prior findings from the study, the team found that women who had taken part in the support group had stronger immune systems and were 45 percent less likely to have their breast cancer come back after 11 years of follow up.

The latest phase of the study looked at the group of women whose cancer did return. Of these 62 women, those who had gotten talk therapy were 59 percent less likely to die from their breast cancer during the study period.

The survival benefit was above and beyond improvements in drug treatments.

Andersen said these results "show enduring benefits" from the support group that had never before been considered or seen.

"An intervention that increased survival would be incredibly valuable. It represents a new tool for improving the lives of women with breast cancer," Sarah Gehlert of Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement.

Andersen said most women with breast cancer would not be able to take part in such a support group at the moment, but she hopes the findings will encourage insurance companies to pay for them, and for hospitals to begin offering such services.


Hypnosis Can Help Control Pain Among Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer, UB Researcher Finds Release Date: February 24, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Hypnosis can help alleviate the pain and suffering experienced by women being treated for breast cancer, according to a study by a University at Buffalo School of Social Work professor.

The randomized trial measured pain and suffering, frequency of pain and degree of constant pain among 124 women with metastatic breast cancer, according to Lisa D. Butler, associate professor in UB's School of Social Work, a faculty member in the Buffalo Center for Social Research and first author of the study.

Researchers recorded levels of pain at four-month intervals for a year. Women who were assigned to the treatment group received group psychotherapy, as well as instruction and practice in hypnosis to moderate their pain symptoms. They reported "significantly less increase in the intensity of pain and suffering over time," compared with a control group, who did not receive the group psychotherapy intervention.

However, those using hypnosis reported no significant reduction in the frequency or constancy of pain episodes. "The results of this study suggest that the experience of pain and suffering for patients with metastatic breast cancer can be successfully reduced with an intervention that includes hypnosis in a group therapy setting," according to Butler. "These results augment the growing literature supporting the use of hypnosis as an adjunctive treatment for medical patients experiencing pain."

The study was published last year in an issue of the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology. The researchers also found that, within the treatment group, those patients who could be hypnotized more easily -- a group the researchers said demonstrated "high hypnotizability" -- reported greater benefits from hypnosis. These patients used hypnosis more overall, including outside of the group sessions, and in some cases used it to address other symptoms related to their cancer.

"These results suggest that although hypnosis is not at present standard practice for treating a wide range of symptoms that trouble cancer patients, it is worth examining that potential," Butler says. "Together, these findings suggest that there may be a number of benefits to the use of hypnosis in cancer care including, but not necessarily limited to, its more traditional application for pain control."

Butler joined the UB faculty in January 2009, after doing research at Stanford University's School of Medicine. She was hired at UB to strengthen the university's research focus on "extreme events" as part of the UB 2020 strategic planning initiative. She recently published a nationally recognized study on how some people living through an extremely traumatic event – including the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- have the ability to recover or even grow in personal and interpersonal functioning.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Hypnosis for Cancer’s Physical and Psychological Dimensions

Adjunctive hypnotic therapy in cancer may be directed to many levels of its manifestation. Physical symptoms of cancer, the most common of which are pain and fatigue, and the physical effects of its treatment may be alleviated to enhance quality of life. Hypnotherapy can significantly help patients through medical procedures and operations. Hypnosis may also be woven into psychotherapy to assist the uniquely personal adjustments facing each individual. Self-hypnosis allows patients to actively contribute to their treatment. Finally, hypnosis and self-hypnosis may be recruited to stimulate healing spiritual discoveries.

~Gerard V. Sunnen, M.D.


Ohio State University Research

People with cancer who used imagery while receiving chemotherapy felt more relaxed, better prepared for their treatment and more positive about care than those who didn’t use the technique. They also found it can help chemotherapy patients cope with one of the most severe side effects of their treatment.

~American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis


Australian Clinical Study of Hypnosis and Cancer Patients

Fatigue has been seen as one of the most common symptoms experienced by cancer patients and is associated with significant impairment in functioning and overall quality of life. (35.75% improving to 12.38%, p= 0.0044), with all patients describing increased energy levels, decreased time spent at rest and a greater ability to live their lives as they wished. Global quality of life showed significant improvement over the course of the study. (63.5% to 79%, p= 0.0058). Patients who had endured nausea and vomiting at the commencement of the study all showed marked improvement (20.88% to 0%; p= 0.095). One patient had the return of normal taste sensation and another began to put on weight while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

~Australian Academy of Hypnosis


Hypnosis Before Breast Cancer Surgery Eases Pain, Cuts Costs

During surgery, the hypnotized women required 22% less analgesia and 34% less sedation. After surgery, they reported 53% less pain intensity, 46% less fatigue, 47% less discomfort, and 74% less emotional upset. They also spent 11 fewer minutes in surgery, resulting in a cost savings of almost $800.00 per patient.

~Journal of the National Cancer Institute


Relieving Cancer Symptoms

David Spiegel, MD, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and a leading researcher on medical hypnosis, has found that the approach can help some patients with terminal cancer live longer and more comfortably. Spiegel studied 125 women with metastatic breast cancer. Those who learned self-hypnosis techniques had 50% less pain than women receiving standard care--and lived, on average, 1 1/2 years longer. Part of the reason may be that the nausea, anxiety, and all-around lousy feelings induced by chemotherapy can be alleviated by hypnosis, several studies have shown.

Boris Lavanovich, 51, a real estate consultant in Ludlow, VT, used hypnosis to cope with an experimental chemotherapy regimen he took to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a lethal blood cancer. "They told me I was stage 4, out the door," Lavanovich says with a dry chuckle. The mountain biker and skier needed medication to counteract nausea, convulsive shakes, and rapid temperature swings brought on by chemotherapy. Without the self-hypnosis training, Lavanovich doubts he could've tolerated the treatment or that he would have benefited. Lavanovich's experience is one hypnotherapist's see time and again: A patient has only to try the technique to become a believer. That's what happened with Wendy, the skeptical nurse who used the therapy to conceive her first son. She had a second without incident, but when she and her husband decided to try for number three, once again her periods vanished. This time she didn't hesitate: She turned to hypnosis, imagining the waterfall and soft breeze that got her body back on track the first time around. It worked--she's now the mother of four sons.