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Hypnosis Can Help Control Pain Among Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer

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.

"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 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 have the ability to recover or even grow in personal and interpersonal functioning.

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