James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
Biofeedback manipulates the bodies physiologic responses that arenormally controlled by the autonomic nervous system. A biofeedback therapist, of which there are over 10,000 in the United States, can teach apatient how to control many of the body's involuntary functions. Somepatients learn to control their heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension,and emotions.
The therapist will place monitoring electrodes on the body or scalp.The electrodes will then be connected to a computer or polygraph. Thiswill emit a noise or signal indicating the intensity or level of theprocess to be controlled. The patient is then instructed to concentrate ontrying to influence to signal. Specific mental exercises will be performedunder the direction of the therapist. The patient will visualize certainimages that affect the mood. The patient may eventually learn which mentalexercises change the signals. After a number of sessions (usually 8-10),the patient may be able to affect certain autonomic processes.
Biofeedback is a technique that can be useful in a wide variety ofconditions. It is not used to cure cancer. The greatest benefit frombiofeedback for the cancer patient is relaxation and reduction of stress.This can undoubtedly improve the quality of life for those who aresuccessful. It allows the cancer patient to take an active role in theirtreatment. Biofeedback is noninvasive, inexpensive and safe.