Many women after breast cancer surgery find that the follow up hormone-related cancer treatments cause significant menopause-like symptoms, particularly hot flashes. Some studies now suggest that hypnosis or other “mind-body” interventions may quell these hot flashes and allow breast cancer survivors to stay the course on their cancer therapies.
Hot flashes can be so severe for some breast cancer patients that up to 25% to 55% stop taking their medication, according to an editorial by Dr. Nancy Avis of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. Alternative non-hormonal approaches are being considered to address this problem.
A recent report by lead scientist Dr. Gary Elkins from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University found that women receiving weekly hypnosis treatments reported fewer and less severe hot flashes than women who didn’t receive the treatments. Hypnosis also improved sleep and reduced anxiety and depression according to participants’ self reports.
“A well-tolerated and effective mind-body treatment for hot flashes would be of great value,” write the authors of the study. “Hypnosis appears to reduce perceived hot flashes in breast cancer survivors,” they conclude.
While these findings are encouraging, the study was small—only about 50 participants—and had some additional limitations. Future studies need to include a control group of women undergoing some type of placebo therapy because it is well documented that just thinking a treatment will work can often produce positive effects.
Dr. Avis also points out that “study participants need to be unaware of which group is the active treatment.” High drop out rates are another issue in these types of studies when participants do not see an immediate benefit or find the procedures too time intensive.
“Despite these challenges, it is important to continue investigating safe approaches to alleviating these disturbing symptoms for breast cancer survivors,” recommends Dr. Avis.
Elkins, G., et al., 2008.