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Counseling Plus Hypnosis Helps Ease Fatigue in Women Getting Radiation Therapy

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A small study has found that a specific type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy, along with hypnosis, can help ease the fatigue that often can be a side effect of radiation therapy to treat breast cancer.

The results were published online on Jan. 13, 2014 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Randomized Controlled Trial of a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Plus Hypnosis Intervention to Control Fatigue in Patients Undergoing Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer.”

The study involved 200 women being treated with 6 weeks of radiation therapy for breast cancer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. The researchers randomly assigned the women to receive one of two counseling sessions:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy plus hypnosis (100 women)
  • general counseling without cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis (100 women)

The women in each group were similar in terms of age, education, marital status, race, stage of breast cancer, total radiation therapy dose, whether or not they had received chemotherapy before radiation therapy, and whether or not they were taking hormonal therapy.

Both types of counseling were done by trained clinical psychologists.

The first counseling session lasted 30 minutes. After that, all the women met with their counselors twice a week for 15 minutes while they were receiving radiation therapy. The last counseling session also lasted 30 minutes.

In the cognitive behavioral group, the counselors led the women through techniques designed to ease fatigue, including guided imagery, relaxation, and discussing their thought processes. In the general counseling session group, the counselors let the women lead the discussion and then offered supportive comments.

The researchers measured the women’s fatigue levels four times during the study:

  • at the beginning of the study before any counseling happened
  • at the end of radiation therapy
  • 4 weeks after radiation therapy
  • 6 months after radiation therapy

The women who received cognitive behavioral therapy had lower levels of fatigue at the end of radiation therapy, 4 weeks after radiation therapy ended, and 6 months after radiation therapy ended compared to the women who received general counseling.

These differences were statistically significant, which means they were due to the different types of counseling and didn’t just happen by chance.

Both types of counseling caused no side effects.

While this study was small, the results are very encouraging and suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis may be a good choice for women who are struggling with fatigue during radiation therapy treatment.

If you’re being treated with radiation therapy for breast cancer and are dealing with fatigue, you may want to talk to your doctor about this study. Ask your doctor if cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis is right for your unique situation. You also may want to ask someone on your medical team about what’s available at your hospital or treatment center.

In the Complementary & Holistic Medicine pages, you can learn about 16 therapies, including guided imagery, hypnosis, and progressive muscle relaxation. You can read about:

  • what to expect
  • how to find a qualified practitioner
  • important things to consider before trying a technique

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