Sunday Herald - 31 October 2004
Experts back use of hypnosis for terminally ill
Claims of treatment boosting immune system
SENIOR figures within leading UK cancer charities have called on Scotland’s chief scientist to fund trials into the benefits of hypnosis for terminally ill patients.
Marie Curie Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Relief, two of the main charities dealing with palliative care, believe the treatment could reduce pain, alleviate stress and, more controversiall y, boost the immune system of cancer sufferers.
Six hypnotherapists have begun working with patients at Marie Curie’s Hunters Hill hospice in Glasgow and charity leaders claim that without exception the treatment has benefited patients.
They use techniques such as “ego strengthening” and “visualisation”, where, in a trance state, the patient may be told to imagine their cancer cells being destroyed by healthy cells.
However, cancer chiefs say that many doctors refuse to sanction the treatment because the area is misunderstood and poorly researched.
Susan Munroe, caring services manager for Scotland at Marie Curie Cancer Care, said: “A lot of people still think that hypnosis is about being made to eat onions or that it’s witchcraft. There are a lot of people who are in a position to refer patients for hypnotherapy but who won’t because there is very little scientific evidence. We really do need to do something to improve that.
“That falls to the health service. The chief scientist’s office funds research, which tends to be random control trials. It would be good to see a national trial that would provide evidence that it works.”
Munroe said that “in 100% of cases” patients reported benefits from hypnosis.
Dame Gill Oliver, a former cancer nurse and now director of service development at Macmillan Cancer Relief, also called for funding to be made available for trials. “Hypnosis gives the patient back some control over their body and can help people deal with the side-effects of chemotherapy. More research is needed into hypnosis, as well as for other complementary treatments.”
The calls echo those made by Prince Charles at a symposium in June where he backed more research into complementary medicine’s effect on cancer. He said the UK “must commission and produce research that looks at the efficacy of complementary medicine”.
Although few scientific studies have looked at hypnosis and the disease, one UK paper published in September appeared to show that hypnosis could be effective in reducing cancer pain. Dr Christina Liossi, from the University of Wales, Swansea, found that children who were hypnotised in trials reported they had less cancer-related pain.
Liossi, a psychologist, suggested there was even tentative evidence that hypnosis prolonged the lives of patients. She said: “We have enough evidence now to support further studies.”
Cancer, one of Scotland’s biggest killers, is now thought to affect at least one in three people in the UK. A recent report, Cancer 2025, warned that cases would treble over the next two decades.
And while it is estimated that up to 80% of cancer patients try alternative or complementary treatments, often without the knowledge of their doctor, no funding has been made available to study its use.
Angela Trainer, director of the Glasgow-based Harvest Clinic, which treats cancer patients with hypnotherapy and trains therapists at Marie Curie hospices, said: “When I first started 18 years ago we would see patients who wanted to stop smoking or who came because of their weight. But without question we are now seeing more cancer patients.
“We give positive suggestions and work a lot with visualisation. That can be anything from visualising the healing cells attacking the cancer cells, imagining your tumour shrinking or imagining pain-killers being sent to the part of the body that needs it.
“It’s important to act in this way because it’s likely the body will follow suit. There is no doubt that this treatment is beneficial but in no way can it be called a cure.”
Trainer said that patients were also shown how to self-hypnotise without visiting a therapist.
Last night, other cancer charities lent their support to hypnosis. Grace MacLeod, senior cancer information nurse for CancerBACUP Scotland, said while there was no scientific evidence for hypnosis or visualisation being able to stop a cancer from growing or cure it, the techniques had helped some feel more able to cope with their treatment.
A Scottish Executive spokesman said that it had not yet funded research into the uses of hypnosis in cancer care but did not rule out doing so in the future.
He added: “The chief scientist’s office would be pleased to consider any research proposals on this issue.”