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For cancer survivors, few treatments are available to alleviate fatigue after treatment, and the most effective pharmacological interventions come with side-effect warnings that include panic, psychosis and heart failure. In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, investigators found that cancer survivors who knowingly took placebo pills reported a 29 percent, clinically meaningful, improvement in fatigue severity, and a 39 percent improvement in the extent to which fatigue disrupts quality of life.
The placebo pills are made of cellulose, so there is no "active ingredient," pharmacologically speaking. Upon enrollment, researchers told participants the pills are simply placebos, or inert pills, and each participant had a clear understanding of the placebo effect up-front. Investigators found that patients' opinions of the placebo effect did not matter in the outcome of the study.
People - Placebo - Anything - Response - Others
"Some people who thought the placebo wouldn't do anything had a good response; others who believed it would help didn't have a response," said Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., lead author and director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Fooling or deceiving patients may be unnecessary for placebo effects to produce benefits, with automatic neurological processes being a possible mechanism for the effects. This has revolutionary implications for how we might exploit the power of placebo effects in clinical practice."
The study involved 74 survivors of different types of cancer who reported moderate to severe fatigue. They were randomized either to the open-label placebo condition or to treatment as usual. Patients prescribed the open-label pills were told they were...
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