Hypnosis with cognitive behavioral therapy may benefit breast cancer patients

Breast cancer takes a huge toll on a woman's emotional and psychological health. The uncertainty of a diagnosis and punishing rounds of chemotherapy and radiation often result in chronic fatigue and anxiety.

Most cancer centers provide talk therapy and more traditional forms of psychological counseling to help women in treatment manage the emotional impact of their disease.

But at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, Guy Montgomery, associate professor of oncological sciences, is testing out a combination of hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy to help breast cancer patients keep their mental health in check.

"Feeling anxious and worried can lead to fatigue and that's one of the steps we're working with patients to be more in control of those kinds of emotions," Montgomery told CBS News.

In his study of 200 patients, Montgomery found women who underwent regular CBT and hypnosis reported less fatigue and anxiety -- even six months later.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented therapeutic approach that helps a patient manage their cognitive processes, such as negative thought patterns. Montgomery combines CBT with hypnosis, which puts the patient in an extreme relaxed state that is physiologically similar to sleep.

He uses guided imagery to help the women relax. When he works with his patient Claire Zion he talks to her in a calm and soothing voice. "Each breath you can feel yourself becoming more and more relaxed," he tells her. "I'd like you to picture a cool lake."

Zion underwent breast cancer treatment in 2010. After her double mastectomy she enrolled in Montgomery's study to see if his experimental therapy could alleviate her fatigue. "It teaches you to find a place where you can quiet that noise and comfort yourself," Zion told CBS News. Her cancer is now in remission, and she's hopes the therapy can now help her sleep better.

Zion said she felt the benefits of Montgomery's therapy throughout her cancer treatment. She even was able to keep up with some of her normal activities. "I rode my bike to radiation every day," she said.

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