Hypnosis May Ease Pain, Cost of Breast Cancer Surgery, Study Says

Hypnosis may cut down on the amount of pain women suffer after breast cancer surgery and the amount of time and money they spend on the procedure, a new study shows.

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York also found the use of hypnosis before breast cancer surgery reduced the amount of anesthesia administered during the operation.

Breast cancer surgery patients often suffer side effects such as pain, nausea and fatigue during and after their operations, which can force them to spend more time and money recovering in the hospital, according to a study published online Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

But Mount Sinai doctor Guy Montgomery and his colleagues believe 15 minutes of hypnosis given within one hour of surgery may remedy this problem.

For the study, women were randomly assigned to either 15 minutes of hypnosis by a psychologist or a control session in which they spoke with a psychologist.

The researchers then compared the use of pain medications and sedatives during surgery, as well as the levels of pain and other side effects reported afterward.

Patients in the hypnosis group required less anesthesia than patients in the control group. They also reported less pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort and emotional upset after surgery. They spent less time in surgery (almost 11 minutes less), and their surgical costs were reduced by about $773 per patient, mainly due to the time savings.

"Together, the combination of potential improvements in symptom burden for the hundreds of thousands of women facing breast cancer surgery each year and the economic benefit for institutions argues persuasively for the more widespread application of brief presurgical hypnosis," the authors wrote.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. David Spiegel, of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., described the history of hypnosis in medicine and the evidence for why hypnosis could reduce pain.

"It has taken us a century and a half to rediscover the fact that the mind has something to do with pain and can be a powerful tool in controlling it. … It is now abundantly clear that we can retrain the brain to reduce pain: ‘float rather than fight,’" Spiegel wrote.