Hypnosis can help reduce a woman's pain and anxiety during breast biopsy, a new study finds. "The findings show that nonpharmacologic means can be very powerful—without side effects," said researcher Dr. Elvira V. Lang, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

The Study

The study included 236 women who were randomly assigned to one of three types of care while undergoing outpatient needle biopsy. Seventy-six of the women received standard care; 82 received structured "empathetic attention from a person specifically assigned to be responsive to the women's needs and 78 of the women induced self-hypnotic relaxation under instruction from a trained research assistant.

The women in the hypnosis group were instructed to roll their eyes upward, close their eyes, breathe deeply, focus on a sensation of floating and imagine a pleasant setting.


Before the start of their biopsies, all the women had heightened anxiety levels. During the procedure, anxiety increased significantly in the standard care group, did not change in the empathy group, and decreased significantly in the hypnosis group.

The women in the empathy and hypnosis groups reported less pain than those in the standard care group. The researchers also found that the hypnosis group had the shortest procedure times and lowest cost.

"The results extend prior assumptions about mind-body interventions, in that self-hypnotic relaxation can be learned very quickly right on the procedure table without additional cost, challenging the notion that extensive office visits or preparation are necessary," Lang said.

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