Hypnosis: A Comparison of the Efficacy of an Intervention Across Patient Populations

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Doctors in Belgium undertook a controlled study to see whether hypnosis could prove beneficial for men with prostate cancer.
Doctors in Belgium undertook a controlled study to see whether hypnosis could prove beneficial for men with prostate cancer.

Having cancer means coping with all sorts of stressors, each of which lead to their own negative consequences. No matter what type of cancer a patient has, the stress profile is there to accompany the disease. Pain, cancer-related fatigue, chemotherapy-related neuropathy, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and depression — all become part of the patient's life and take a toll on its quality. Clinicians and palliative care specialists have utilized various modalities to help patients; hypnosis is one example. It has been proven to effectively help women with breast cancer. Doctors at University Hospital of Liege in Belgium undertook a controlled study to see whether hypnosis could be equally beneficial for men with prostate cancer.

Parallel Cancer Types

Cancer facts are well known and sobering. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer in women and is also a leading cause of death by cancer in women. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death among men. However, survival rates are increasing steadily so more patients with cancer are living with its consequences.

Breast and prostate cancers share some parallels. Both occur frequently, and both are gender specific: 100% of patients with prostate cancer are male, and 99% of patients with breast cancer are female; both cancers involve sexual organs. Although prostate cancer progresses slowly and is often treated later in the course of the illness, treatments options for both cancers are analogous. For prostate cancer, options include watchful waiting, hormone therapy, radiation therapy including brachytherapy, and surgical resection. Watchful waiting is not a typical treatment option for breast cancer, but in addition to chemotherapy, the remaining options are mainstays of breast cancer treatment as well.

The negative effects experienced by patients are also comparable. Patients with either cancer may experience poor cognition, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, loss of libido, physical dysfunction, and pain. These adverse effects can then lead to anxiety, depression, and poor quality of life, which in turn take a toll on patients' ability to resume normal life and work once treatment is completed. Of course, some effects are disease and/or gender specific. Prostate cancer may lead to erectile dysfunction and other male-specific sexual problems, whereas breast cancer and its treatment may result in the alteration or loss of symbols of femininity such as breasts, menstruation, and fertility.

Certain palliative care interventions are effective for women with breast cancer. Hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce the fatigue and distress of living with breast cancer. Because prostate and breast cancers are so analogous, the Belgian researchers undertook a longitudinal study to determine if patients with either disease would reap similar benefit from similar interventions. Specifically, could hypnosis and CBT palliation help men with prostate cancer as effectively as it helps women with breast cancer?  

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