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Hypnosis - Effective Pain Reliever for Breast Cancer Surgery

Centuries ago doctors used hypnosis to help relieve the excruciating pain of surgery. It then fell out of favor with the introduction of anesthesia. Now as VOA's Melinda Smith reports, new studies show a host of benefits when hypnosis is used before breast cancer surgery.

In recent years, health professionals have used hypnosis as a tool in psychotherapy, and weight loss management, even on an experimental basis when Parkinson's disease patients undergo surgery for deep brain stimulation.

Now a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute underscores the benefits of hypnosis to reduce the side effects of breast cancer surgery.

Dr. Guy Montgomery of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is the study's author. "We found patients in the hypnosis group had less pain, nausea and fatigue, and they were less emotionally upset or less anxious, so it really was a win for the patients."

In a randomized clinical trial, 200 women scheduled for a breast biopsy or lumpectomy [removal of tumor without mastectomy] underwent a 15-minute hypnosis session before they went into the operating room. Others just had a consultation with a psychologist.

While hypnosis has been studied before, this was the first time it was part of breast cancer treatment.

Helen Dorman describes the pain of her surgery: "You sort of feel like you've been rolled over by a Mack [a brand of large truck] truck when you wake up."

Dr. Montgomery with Helen Dorman - "I'd like you to close your eyes and let yourself relax."

Patients under hypnosis were told to place themselves mentally somewhere pleasant, like the beach on a summer day.

The hypnosis also cuts the amount of time spent in surgery, and that cuts back on medical expenses by at least $700.

A leading proponent of hypnosis says it has taken more than a century to rediscover the power of the mind in controlling pain.