How stress affects cancer treatment

According to a new study published recently, it was shown that stress reduction therapy is crucial for anyone who is battling cancer.


As welcome as these revelations are, they are no surprise to Clinical Hypnotherapists like myself and no doubt, to many other modalities of alternative / natural therapies.

Science shows that stress hormones during cancer treatment, can prevent the cancerous cells in the body from dividing and reacting, and while this might sound like a good thing… it’s not.

These pesky stress hormones actually shield growing tumours from the effect of anticancer drugs being administered.

Hormones have much to answer for – some beneficial, some not so beneficial. Our bodies respond to physical, mental or emotional pressure by releasing hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine which increase blood pressure, speed heart rate, and raise blood sugar levels. Under normal circumstances these changes help us to act with greater strength and speed to escape a perceived threat, more commonly known as our Fight or Flight response.

Research has shown that people who experience intense and long-term stress can suffer with digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems and a weakened immune system. People who experience chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu or common cold and to have headaches, sleep trouble, depression and anxiety.

So back to that new study. Dr Melanie Flint from the University of Brighton studied the effects of stress on the body when a patient is receiving cancer treatment, in particular chemotherapy. Dr Flint said “We know reducing stress improves psychological well-being, but our findings give us the idea that this elevation in stress hormones, or perhaps changes in receptors that stress hormones bind to, may effect patients’ responses to chemotherapies.”

She went on to say, “What I would like to see is that every patient diagnosed with cancer has their stress recognised and their options talked through and an offer of stress reduction.”

We can only hope that her message is heard loud and clear.

So what can a hypnotherapist do to help somebody who has cancer?

A hypnotherapist will make it clear that he or she is not expecting to “cure” a person of cancer simply by taking them into a hypnotic trance. However there is evidence to show that hypnotherapy can help people with cancer, helping to reduce anxiety and stress overall, anxiety prior to surgery, anxiety and stress to and even during treatment, waiting on test results, scans, needles and IV, pain control and generally improving quality of life.

The reason why hypnotherapy can have these beneficial effects is because mind and body are interconnected and any treatment needs to take this into account. Due to advances in medical science we have a greater understanding of how the body works and this has led to an emphasis on physical treatment, i.e. radiotherapy, chemotherapy etc, but the mind has an important and indeed a vital part to play.

Cancer Research UK states, “As with many types of complementary therapy, some people with cancer use hypnotherapy to help them relax and cope with symptoms and treatment. Hypnotherapy might help some people feel more comfortable and in control of their situation.” CRUK goes on to say “People with cancer most often use hypnotherapy for sickness or pain. There is some evidence that hypnotherapy helps with these symptoms. It can also help with depression, anxiety and stress. Some reports show that hypnosis can help people to reduce their blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and pain. Hypnosis can create relaxing brainwave patterns. Some clinical trials have looked at how well hypnotherapy works for people with cancer.” Used alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy hypnotherapy plays a very important role in reducing anxiety.

Gail Marra D.Hyp MNCH (Acc) LAPHP is a GHR registered Clinical Hypnotherapist accredited by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, National Register of Psychotherapists and Counsellors and the Complimentary and Natural Healthcare Council

10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF      Tel: 020 7873 2051

The Chilston Clinic, Royal Tunbridge Wells TN4 8RA      Tel: 01892 513535





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