Hypnotherapy and cancer

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to put you into a trance like state where your body is deeply relaxed but your mind is active.


  • Hypnotherapy may help you feel calm and relaxed.
  • A trained hypnotherapist can use various methods to help you into this state.
  • Hypnotherapy has been used to help people try to give up smoking.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is when a hypnotherapist helps you go into a deeply relaxed state. 

We all go into such states of mind naturally in daily life. For example, when we daydream or concentrate deeply on something.

A hypnotherapist can use various methods to help you into this state. They may speak to you slowly and soothingly. Or they may ask you to look at a fixed object in front of you or at the edge of your field of vision. You might feel heavy or light, but will remain relaxed and in control at all times.

No one is sure how hypnotherapy works. One theory is that your conscious mind switches off while you are relaxed. So your unconscious mind is open to suggestions. While you are in this state, your hypnotherapist will suggest things that might help you to change your behaviour in a positive way or to relieve physical symptoms.

Remember that even if you are hypnotised, you don’t have to take on the therapist’s suggestions. No one can hypnotise you if you don’t want them to.

Why people with cancer use hypnotherapy

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.

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 doctors and dentists have hypnotherapy training. They might use this alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

How you have it

At your first appointment, the hypnotherapist will ask some general questions about your health, lifestyle and medical history. This may include questions about diet, sleep patterns and how you feel emotionally.

Your hypnotherapist will then focus on why you want to have hypnotherapy. For example, you might want it to help you cope with anxiety or symptoms. Or you might just want to learn to relax more.

You sit in a comfortable chair and when you are ready your hypnotherapist will begin. They may give suggestions on relaxation or help you to imagine being in a comfortable place. They might count down from 10 to 1.

When you are relaxed, the therapist will give positive suggestions about changing your behaviour or managing symptoms. During the session you'll be aware of your surroundings. You can come out of the hypnotic state very quickly if you want to.

Your hypnotherapist might also teach you self hypnosis so that you can manage your own condition. It may take a few weeks of practice before you feel the benefits of using self hypnosis.

Many people worry that they will lose control under hypnosis and do or say things that they don’t want to. But you can choose not to answer if you are not comfortable with any of the suggestions made.

Research into hypnotherapy

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.

There have been some small studies to see if hypnosis can help reduce pain. 

In 2012, researchers in Spain reviewed studies of children with cancer and found that hypnosis appeared to help reduce pain and distress from cancer or from medical procedures.

A systematic review Open a glossary item in 2021 looked at 11 trials. Some of the trials showed that hypnotherapy reduced anxiety and pain in people with cancer. Other trials found that hypnotherapy made no difference to pain or anxiety. So we need more studies with larger numbers of people. 

A study in 2013 looked at whether hypnosis could help with the reduction of hot flushes in post menopausal women. They found that with 5 weekly sessions of hypnosis the incidence of hot flushes decreased in some women. 

A US study in 2007 gave hypnotherapy to a group of women before they had breast surgery. The researchers found that hypnotherapy lowered the amount of pain, sickness, tiredness and upset that the women had afterwards.

Another US study in 2006 found that hypnotherapy helped to lower anxiety and pain during a biopsy for suspected breast cancer.

People commonly use hypnotherapy to help them give up smoking.

In 2010 a Cochrane review stated that there was not enough evidence that hypnotherapy is better than other methods for stopping smoking.

Who shouldn’t use it

Hypnotherapy is generally very safe. Most people say that they have a positive experience with it. But some people report negative side effects, such as increased anxiety.

You shouldn’t use hypnotherapy if you have certain medical conditions, as it could make them worse.

These are:

  • psychosis (a type of mental illness where people have a distorted view of what’s real and may see or hear things)
  • a personality disorder
  • epilepsy

The important thing is to make sure your therapist is qualified. Only see a hypnotherapist who has experience of treating your condition if you have other types of mental health problems, or a serious illness such as cancer.

Children under the age of 7 should only be hypnotised by a therapist who is trained to work with this age group.

How much it costs

Some cancer centres and hospitals in the UK offer different types of complementary therapies free of charge. Ask your nurse or doctor if hypnotherapy is available on the ward or centre where you have your treatment.

If it isn’t, the staff might be able to direct you to a voluntary organisation that does, or at a reduced cost. Your GP might also be able to recommend a hypnotherapist who works within the NHS.

A session with a private hypnotherapist can cost between £50 and £90. This will vary from place to place.

Finding a qualified hypnotherapist

There is currently no single professional organisation that regulates hypnotherapists in the UK.

Therapists can join several associations. But the law doesn’t make them do so and they don’t have to have any specific training.

Most doctors, dentists, psychologists and other health care professionals who are also hypnotherapists belong to The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

Being put into a hypnotic state can make you feel very vulnerable. So it is very important that the person who treats you is properly trained and that you trust them.

The best way to find a reliable therapist is to contact one of the organisations listed below and ask for a list of hypnotherapists in your area.

  • How many years of training have you had?
  • How long have you been practising?
  • Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)
  • The Role of Hypnosis in Cancer Care
    L.E Carlson and others
    Current Oncology Reports. Nov 2018. Vol 20 Issue 12 

  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopause
    A. Johnson and others
    Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine. 2019. Volume 24

  • Clinical hypnosis in the treatment of postmenopausal hot flashes: a randomized controlled trial
    G.R Elkins and others
    Menopause March 2013. Vol 20, Issue 3 

  • A randomized clinical trial of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side effects in breast surgery patients.
    GH Montgomery and others, 2007
    Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 99, Issue 17

  • Hypnosis for the management of chronic and cancer procedure-related pain in children.
    C Tomé-Pires and J Miró, 2012
    The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Volume 60, Issue 4

  • Does hypnotherapy help people who are trying to stop smoking
    J Barnes and others, 2010
    Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
03 Oct 2022
Next review due: 
03 Oct 2025

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