Relaxation Techniques can prolong the lives of cancer patients by between two and three years, research shows.
A 13-year study of patients with lymph cancers found that hypnotherapy and relaxation exercises could prolong the lives of sufferers who are also receiving chemotherapy. Those who received the therapies, designed to relieve stress and help with the side-effects of chemotherapy, survived, on average, 32 months longer than patients who had conventional treatments alone.
Survival rates depended on the severity and stage of the disease in each patient. But there was an overall improvement in life-span, Professor Leslie Walker told the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Glasgow.
His findings add weight to the theory that the ability of patients to fight some cancers is enhanced by unconventional therapeutic techniques.
Professor Walker, the director of the Institute of Rehabilitation at the University of Hull, described how patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease were given hypnotherapy or other relaxation training to help them endure gruelling courses of chemotherapy.
Among the complementary techniques was an exercise where patients recalled a time and place where they felt at one with the world, imagined they were there again and became absorbed in memories of what they could see, smell or hear.
The therapies were intended to reduce the side-effects of radiation and not as a treatment in their own right. When the patients were followed up years later, those who received the therapies were shown to have lived “significantly longer”, Professor Walker said. “We didn’t set out to prolong survival, but people who received relaxation or hypnotherapy lived significantly longer. If these findings can be repeated, there are obvious implications for treating patients with lymphoma.”
Professor Walker stressed that the same effect might not be replicated in other types of cancers, and said that opinion was still divided about the impact of therapeutic intervention.
But an American study of 86 women with advanced breast cancer showed that those who received therapeutic intervention and were encouraged to talk about their illnesses survived twice as long as those who received ordinary treatment. A second study in California showed improved survival in skin-cancer victims.
Professor Walker has also seen positive signs in work with 80 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in Hull. Some women are taking part in “guided imagery” where they visualise “killer cells” in the blood eradicating the disease. Thinking of the cells as “shark-like creatures which eat up cancer” or “dragons which burn cancers to death” has resulted in an increased number of killer cells in the blood of the women patients and an improved outlook, but there is no evidence of prolonged life.
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