Hypnotic Approaches to Cancer Treatment

Cancer affects a person on many levels, from the cellular to the psyche. While the baffling varieties of its manifestations continue to be studied, there is an evolving awareness of its complex dimensions. Cancer patients are likely to experience intense distress and pain—pain from the disease itself, from its treatments, and from the deep mental and social changes the disease and its treatments induce.

Recently there has been a growing appreciation of the needs of cancer patients for support, open communication, understanding, and for the sensitivity and professionalism with which life-threatening illnesses need to be approached.

Hypnosis is used at several levels of cancer care.(1)(2)(3-6) First, it is useful as a means of dealing with the symptoms of the disease itself, such as pain and symptoms associated with specific organ systems, and nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, malaise, irritability, and insomnia. Second, hypnosis may be helpful in the management of the side effects of cancer treatments. This is vital because the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, such as nausea and vomiting, may cause the patient to drop out of therapy. Third, cancer patients are faced with major emotional and mental adjustments. Many view their diagnosis with nihilism and are forced to grapple with profound existential issues of life and death. Lastly, hypnosis has been aimed at modifying the course of the disease process itself through the medium of mental images. (6)(7)

The individual in deep hypnotic trance may experience any one of a variety of shifts in body image. The perception of oneself in space including, if appropriate, the presence of pain, can then be modulated by the influence of hypnosis. The subconscious, the core of the experiencing self, can be asked, in hypnosis, to modify its relationship to the feeling of pain. The subconscious can also be provide deeper messages. The practice of integrative medicine, holistic care that tends to mind, body, spirit, are more prominent in cancer care. For a list of institution practicing integrative medicine in cancer care and other resources, please click HERE! 



  1. Hilgard ER, Hilgard JR. Hypnosis in the relief of pain, 2nd ed. Los Altos, CA: Kaufman, 1983.

  2. Kroger WS. Clinical and experimental hypnosis in medicine, dentistry, and psychology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1977.

  3. Burrows GD, Dennerstein L, eds. Handbook of hypnosis and psychosomatic medicine. Amsterdam: Elsevier/North Holland Biomedical Press, 1980.

  4. Udolf R. Handbook of hypnosis for professionals. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.

  5. Wester WC II, Smith AH Jr, eds. Clinical hypnosis--a multidisciplinary approach. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1984.

  6. Hall HH. Hypnosis and the immune system: A review with implications for cancer and the psychology of healing. Am J Clin Hyp 1982;25(2-3):92-103.

  7. Newton BW. The use of hypnosis in the treatment of cancer patients. Am J Clin Hyp 1983;25(2-3):104-13.


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