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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 00:26 GMT
Hypnosis 'aids breast biopsies'
Breast biopsy (Science Photo Library/ AJ Photo)
Hypnosis lowered anxiety and pain during the procedure
Hypnosis can help women cope with breast biopsies, researchers find.

US scientists found women in a hypnotic state experienced less pain and anxiety during the procedure compared with women given standard treatment.

The findings were presented at the annual conference of the Radiological Society of North America, which was held in Chicago.

The researchers looked at 236 women who were undergoing a needle biopsy to test tissue for cancerous cells.

All of the women had their procedure carried out under local anaesthetic in an outpatient setting, but they were assigned different types of care:

  • Seventy-six women received "standard care", treated with two to four medical staff present
  • Eighty-two women received "empathetic care", where they had an extra person on hand to be positive and to be responsive to their needs
  • And 78 women had self-hypnotic relaxation, with an extra person asking them to do things such as close their eyes, breathe deeply and imagine they were floating.

The researchers found that all the women were anxious before the biopsy.

However, during the procedure, those receiving standard care felt an increase in anxiety, the empathy patients stress levels remained the same, while the hypnosis group felt significantly less anxious.

The findings show that non-pharmacologic means can be very powerful - without side effects
Elvira Lang, Harvard

All three groups reported pain during the biopsy, but the patients given the empathetic and hypnosis care felt significantly less discomfort than those given the standard treatment, the team reported.

They added that costs and treatment times did not differ significantly for the three types of care.

'Stressful time'

Lead researcher Elvira Lang, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, said: "The findings show that non-pharmacologic means can be very powerful - without side-effects."

"The results extend prior assumptions about mind-body interventions in that self-hypnotic relaxation can be learned very quickly right on the procedure table without additional cost, challenging the notion that extensive office visits or preparation are necessary."

Dr Alexis Willett, senior policy and information officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "The development of new ways to ease side-effects, such as pain and anxiety which some women experience when having a biopsy, are always welcome.

"Studies like this which assess the potential effectiveness of different therapies are important in increasing understanding of how best to support patients at a stressful time."

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