Is hypnosis just a trick of stage magicians or hocus pocus for gullible New Agers? Not according to new research just presented at the European Anaesthesiology Congress in Amsterdam.
Professor Fabienne Roelants and Dr. Christine Watremez, from the Department of Anesthesiology at the Cliniques Universitaires St. Luc, UCL, in Brussels, Belgium, found, that by using a combination of hypnosis and local anesthesia (LA) for certain types of surgery, patients can avoid general anesthesia. That, the scientists said in a media statement, can aid the healing process, reduce drug use, shorten time spent in the hospital — and it could help cancer patients avoid cancer recurrence and the spread of cancer (metastasis), too.
The research team studied the impact of using LA and hypnosis in certain kinds of breast cancer surgery and in thyroidectomy (removal of all or part of the thyroid gland). “In all of these procedures local anesthesia is feasible but not, on its own, sufficient to ensure patient comfort,” Professor Roelants explained in the press statement.
So what makes local anesthesia work well enough to use for these operations? Adding hypnosis.
For the first study, 18 women out of 78 had hypnosis for a variety of breast cancer surgical procedures including partial mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy (examination of lymph nodes likely to become cancerous from metastasis) and axillary dissection (opening the armpit to examine or remove some or all of the lymph nodes). The remaining women in the group had general anesthesia for the same surgical procedures.
The results showed that the patients who were hypnotized spent a few minutes more in the operating room but their post-operation opioid drug use was greatly reduced. What’s more, they recovered more quickly from their surgery and spent less time in the hospital.
The scientists also compared the outcomes of thyroid surgery in 18 patients who had a combination of LA and hypnosis with outcomes of 36 people who underwent surgery with general anesthesia. In order to decrease the invasiveness of the procedure, both groups had the same type of video-assisted thyroidectomy. The outcome was the same as in the breast cancer surgery — once again, drug use, recovery, and hospital stay times were greatly reduced among the patients in the LA/hypnosis group.
“In addition to reducing drug use and hospital stay time, being able to avoid general anesthesia in breast cancer surgery is important because we know that local anesthesia can block the body’s stress response to surgery and could therefore reduce the possible spread of metastases,” Professor Roelants stated.
“There is still a lot of debate around the exact mechanism that allows hypnosis to reduce pain perception,” Professor Roelants said in the media statement. “But what is absolutely clear is that it does so. The result is that one-third of thyroidectomies and a quarter of all breast cancer surgery carried out at the UCL hospital are performed under local anesthetic with the patient under hypnosis.”
“We believe that our studies have shown considerable benefits for the LA/hypnosis combination and that such benefits are not only for patients but also for healthcare systems. By using hypnosis combined with LA we can reduce the costs involved in longer hospital stays, remove the need for patients to use opioid drugs, and increase their overall comfort and satisfaction levels.
To date, there are few publications about the use of hypnosis in surgery, and we hope that, by contributing to the body of evidence on its efficacy, our research will encourage others to carry out this procedure to the advantage of all concerned,” Dr. Watremez concluded.
by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor