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Hypnosis eases breast cancer surgery pain: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Women who underwent hypnosis before breast cancer surgery needed less anesthesia and had fewer side effects than women who got counseling instead, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

“This is a randomized clinical trial of 200 patients that really showed beneficial effects for patients,” said Guy Montgomery of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “It really works well.”

While hypnosis was used to control the pain of amputations in India more than 150 years ago, its use is still not routine.

“It has this baggage,” Montgomery said in a telephone interview.

The hypnosis used in the study was not of the spinning watch variety popularized by carnival side shows. One hour prior to breast cancer surgery, 100 women underwent hypnosis for 15 minutes and the rest had 15 minutes of counseling with a psychologist.

Those who received hypnosis needed less anesthesia during the operation, reported less pain afterward and their procedures took less time. They spent 11 minutes less in surgery, amounting to $773 per patient in reduced surgical costs, according to the study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Montgomery said patients first needed to be debunked of any misconceptions.

“We’re not going to make you cluck like a chicken or sing like Madonna,” he told patients. “Hypnosis is not mind control. It’s more like focused attention.”

Women in the study were directed to think of a relaxed place, often a beach scene. “At the end, we make suggestions for reduced pain,” he said.

Montgomery said the point was to set expectations for reduced pain.

“It’s not magic. But it will make you feel better,” he said.

In a commentary in the same journal, Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford University School of Medicine wrote, “You have to pay attention to pain for it to hurt, and it is entirely possible to substantially alter pain perception during surgical procedures by inducing hypnotic relaxation.”

Montgomery, who has been analyzing the effect of hypnosis on pain for years, plans to study it in other cancers and hopes to see it more broadly used.