Cancer treatment and hypnotherapy

Written by: Dr Sarah Partridge
Published: | Updated: 21/04/2023
Edited by: Robert Smith

We’ve all heard of hypnosis at some point in our lives, but very few of us know about the true benefits of hypnotherapy. Despite decades of research behind this practice, it’s not used as often as it could be. Whilst it’s no substitute for conventional cancer treatment, it certainly offers some benefits.


Dr Sarah Partridge is an expert in clinical hypnotherapy and uses it alongside her main area of expertise, clinical oncology. We spoke with her recently to discuss how hypnotherapy works, how it can support cancer treatment, and how effective it really is. Read on to find out what can be expected from hypnotherapy when used alongside conventional and evidence-based cancer treatments.


woman writing in book


What is clinical hypnotherapy?


Hypnosis is basically a state of focused attention with the suspension of peripheral awareness. It's a very common state which can explain experiences where we appear to be on 'autopilot' or where we are so engrossed that we fail to hear our name called or respond to events going on around us.


When athletes describe they are ‘in the zone’, they are effectively in a hypnotic state where they experience heightened focus, exceptional performance, and no pain or perceived limitations to their capabilities. In a therapeutic setting however, hypnosis can be initiated by an ‘induction’ process, which can be associated with relaxation and calm.


Suggestions given to us when we are in a trance state imprint themselves in our subconscious mind and can have more of an impact, particularly when allied with other forms of therapies with the same intent. These can be delivered by a trained hypnotherapist or through audio files, examples of which are available on the website designed by myself. Some would say that 'All hypnosis is self-hypnosis', but the levels of trance attained are more likely to be deeper with a therapist. I recommend having a look at my practice’s website, Tranceform-Medical, for more information too.


How does clinical hypnotherapy support cancer treatment?


A wide range of studies and meta-analyses show statistically significant benefits. However, unfortunately, many doctors are not educated about its use and applications and hence are not aware of its therapeutic potential as 'adjuvant' therapy. It can speed recovery, shorten hospital admissions, reduce anxiety and enhance relaxation. Hypnotherapy is one of the best treatments available to treat drug-resistant irritable bowel syndrome, proven in randomised clinical trials. It has even been used to anaesthetise patients during surgery and speed their healing time.


Clinical hypnotherapy should not be a replacement for conventional and evidence-based treatments. For example, though hypnosis can be used to reduce pain, it is not advocated that you should stop all pain medication, but hopefully, it can be used as a tool to allow reductions in analgesia requirements with regular practice.


Similarly, your medical issues may need input from a variety of clinicians and therapies, and self-hypnosis can be used to assist and speed the impact and effectiveness of all your treatments as an adjuvant component rather than an alternative.


What surprises patients most about hypnotherapy for cancer treatment?


Just how versatile it is. It is easily accessed if you are motivated to try to use it and is extremely safe. It is probably safer than almost any other interventions, as our unconscious mind is programmed to accept only positive, helpful suggestions and will reject those that may not suit us. It actually gives us more control in circumstances where we feel a loss of control, and many patients are delighted how quickly and effectively it works, even with well-established phobias.


It is perhaps also rather surprising that for something that has been researched and available for more than two-hundred years, it is not more frequently used within medical and surgical practice. However, it is a skill that most people see on TV or the stage, and do not appreciate that it could be learned for their own use, to improve their own wellbeing.


Are there disadvantages of hypnotherapy?


There are some disadvantages, and as with most other things in life, there is no such thing as 'one size fits all'. People who have a severe mental illness, such as psychosis, deep depression, or uncontrolled epilepsy, or brain tumours, should not use hypnosis. They should seek medical expertise to assist them. Those with cognitive impairment are unlikely to benefit, as are those who are not interested, motivated, or willing to persist with regular practice. It is the repetitive implementation of self-hypnosis strategies that can be most effective for cancer patients, and some people find they have difficulties making time for it.


Sadly, a lot of people have misconceptions and fear about hypnosis which undermines their confidence to try it and learn how to use it. Some even suspect it may conflict with their religious views, but it has no religious affiliations. Myths that you can 'get stuck in a trance' are unfounded, or that hypnosis is something magical is also false. It is not a sleep state, and subjects in a trance can 'awaken' or resume all normal activities if they need to.


Is clinical hypnotherapy effective in all cancer patients?


About eighty per cent of the population have a variable degree of hypno-suggestibility, and it can be enhanced with practice. Roughly ten per cent are hyper suggestible, and ten per cent entirely resistant, and for those with contra-indications mentioned above, it is clear that clinical hypnosis would not be appropriate for all cancer patients.


However, a significant proportion of cancer patients are highly motivated, open to innovation, and willing to learn therapeutic options to improve the impact of their therapy. They often have repetitive treatments and hospital visits which provide opportunities to integrate self-hypnosis alongside waiting time, during investigations or whilst treatment is being delivered.


Using it in this way can make 'time fly', and reduce or even eliminate discomfort with procedures such as cannulation or treatment-related side effects. Once treatment has been completed, cancer 'survivors' may have ongoing issues which may be helped by clinical hypnosis. Body image, sexual dysfunction, sleep, and depression or anxiety about the uncertainties of the future are common legacies that may be ameliorated with the help of self-hypnosis, which will speed the benefits of other interventions such as CBT or counselling.


In those who cannot be cured of their disease, then this short intervention can provide a means to modify symptoms, manage mood and anxiety, and provides a helpful adjunct to other palliative treatments.




If you would like to know more about the positive effects of hypnotherapy, you can schedule a consultation with Dr Sarah Partridge by visiting her Top Doctors profile. 

By Dr Sarah Partridge
Clinical oncology

Dr Sarah Partridge is a renowned consultant clinical oncologist in London. She offers patients personalised and holistic care during their cancer treatment, providing them with an opportunity to engage in hypnotherapy to achieve profound alterations in mood, well-being and symptom control.

Dr Partidge is a leading expert in her field who works closely with surgical and nursing teams. Her areas of expertise consist of thyroid cancer and head and neck cancer, including cancers of the larynx (voice box), tongue, tonsils and other rarer sites. She supervises and creates management plans for patients' individual needs, which can involve curative treatments with radiotherapypostoperative radiotherapy treatmentschemotherapy and immunotherapy.

She graduated from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in 1990, following which she completed five years of postgraduate specialist training in oncology in London, based between Charing Cross, Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Mount Vernon hospitals. She has also completed a diploma with distinction in clinical hypnotherapy. Since 2002, she has practised at Charing Cross Hospital, which is where she developed a service for cancer patients as part of her role as lead for complementary therapy services.

Furthermore, Dr Partridge plays an active role in specialist training support within oncology as well as participating in the education of medical students. She also is on the Council for Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine at the Royal Society of Medicine, promoting wider recognition and education regarding hypnosis.

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