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Hypnosis Complements Breast Cancer Treatment and Breast Surgery

By Loretta Sernekos

If you are scheduled for breast surgery (biopsy, lumpectomy or mastectomy) or you are undergoing post-surgical breast cancer treatment, hypnosis is an excellent complementary therapy that can enhance the positive effects of various therapies.* Using hypnotherapy in combination with your medical breast cancer treatment will make you feel more empowered and in control of your care, and it will help you maximize your overall wellness.

The power of the subconscious mind can be a potent ally in healing from surgery and recovering from breast cancer, for it is the subconscious mind that controls automatic body processes, including immune function and pain perception. Additionally, the subconscious mind is the source of all emotions, which also makes hypnosis a logical choice for dealing with the emotional aspects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Hypnosis for breast cancer treatment can help with the following issues:

Pre-Surgical Preparation: Numerous studies in medical journals have shown that people who prepare for surgery using hypnosis generally have fewer complications, heal faster and have less post-operative pain. Hypnosis will help you feel calm, relaxed and positive before, during and after surgery. Usually, the hypnosis therapy is geared toward making positive suggestions to your subconscious regarding your surgery and its outcome, as well as teaching you how to effectively manage pre-surgery stress.

When we see pre-surgical clients in our hypnosis practice, we give them a CD to play before and immediately after surgery (and with headphones during surgery, if their surgeon permits). The CD contains soothing music, relaxing imagery and positive suggestions to reassure the client's subconscious mind that the surgery will go smoothly and that their body will heal quickly, with as little discomfort as possible.

The results of pre-surgical hypnosis can be quite amazing. Patients frequently report that they needed very little pain medication and that they were back on their feet very quickly after surgery. I recently spoke with a client with whom I had worked before her major abdominal surgery. After her surgery, her surgeon told her he would order a narcotic pain killer. She told him to hold off on the narcotics because she was not in much pain. In fact, she required only ibuprofen and she was up and walking around just two hours after her surgery! Needless to say, her doctor was amazed.

Any surgery can be stressful, but breast surgery that may indicate a need for follow-up breast cancer treatment can be extremely stressful for any woman. In our practice, hypnosis for breast cancer surgery focuses specifically on this extreme stress. The calmer you stay before the surgery, the more resources your body has to heal itself as quickly as possible.

Follow-Up Treatment If Cancer Is Detected: If you require follow-up radiation and/or chemotherapy as part of your breast cancer treatment, hypnosis can teach you how to feel more relaxed and manage your stress. A growing body of evidence suggests that chronic stress and the cascade of stress hormones it produces can interfere with the proper functioning of the immune system. An immune system which is as healthy as it can be (given the specific treatment) is critically important during breast cancer treatment.

When we work with breast cancer clients in our practice, we teach them relaxation, self-hypnosis and stress management techniques. We also teach our clients how to use mental imagery to encourage their immune system to work together with their medical therapies in order to maximize the benefits of their breast cancer treatment. For example, we may teach a client to visualize her immune system attacking and killing the cancer cells, or surrounding and transforming the cancer cells into something harmless. The visualization work for each client's breast cancer treatment is always tailored to her needs and the way her imagination works.

If your breast cancer treatment creates side effects, including nausea, hypnosis can help you minimize those side effects. And if your breast cancer treatment creates body image issues, hypnosis can also help you feel good about your body again. Each woman is different, both in her needs and in her physical and emotional reactions to the breast cancer treatment and its side effects. Accordingly, each woman's hypnosis sessions will need to be tailored specifically to her requirements and goals.

Whether you are scheduled to undergo breast surgery to determine if you need follow-up breast cancer treatment, or you are already undergoing breast cancer treatment, hypnosis can complement your medical treatment in multiple ways.

*Hypnosis is not a substitute for medical breast cancer treatment. Rather, it is an excellent complement to standard medical breast cancer treatment. Hypnosis works with doctors, not against them. Do not discontinue medical breast cancer treatment when you begin hypnotherapy.

Loretta Sernekos, Ph.D., is a Certified Hypnotherapist in private practice in Cherry Hill, NJ and Philadelphia, PA. You can visit her hypnosis practice website at for more information and audio podcasts. For additional hypnosis information and articles, both modern and antiquarian, visit

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