Harvard Women's Health Watch

In brief: Hypnosis helps reduce hot flashes in breast cancer survivors

Envisioning a snow-capped peak, a walk down a mountain path on a winter day, or other "cool" images as part of hypnosis therapy helped ease hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Nov. 1, 2008).

Hot flashes and night sweats bother about 65% of breast cancer survivors, with many rating them as severe or even debilitating. Symptoms are sometimes so vexing that some women stop taking medications such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex) or anastrozole (Arimidex), which help prevent cancer recurrence but also trigger hot flashes. Estrogen, the most effective hot flash therapy, increases breast cancer risk and isn't prescribed for women with a history of breast cancer. And other, nonhormonal pharmacological agents used to treat hot flashes can have side effects. So finding safe alternative treatments is important. Now, results of a study led by researchers at Baylor University in Texas suggest that hypnosis holds promise as an alternative hot flash therapy.

In hypnosis therapy, a clinician guides the patient to focus inward and use her imagination and positive mental images to alter her perceptions and lessen her symptoms. The technique has proven helpful for relieving pain and anxiety and in treating addiction and other health problems.

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