Music Therapy May Ease Anxiety of Cancer Patients

Study Shows Benefits of Listening to Music and Working With a Music Therapist

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 10, 2011 -- Listening to recorded music or working with a music therapist may reduce anxiety levels of cancer patients and have other positive effects as well, a new study shows.

Listening to recorded music, singing, playing an instrument, or otherwise participating in music making apparently also have positive effects on general mood, pain, and quality of life, according to the study.

The study is published in the August issue of Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

"The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer," says Joke Bradt, PhD, an associate professor in creative arts therapies at Drexel University, in a news release. "Music interventions provided by trained music therapists as well as listening to pre-recorded music both have shown positive outcomes in this review, but at this time there is not enough evidence to determine if one intervention is more effective than the other."

Together with colleagues, Bradt, who has a master's degree in music pedagogy from the Lemmensinstituut in Belgium, analyzed evidence from 1,891 patients taking part in 30 studies.

Thirteen studies used trained music therapists, who got patients to sing or otherwise participate themselves in music creation or selection. In the other 17 studies, patients listened to pre-recorded music.

Music Reduces Anxiety

Compared to standard treatments, though, the results showed that music reduced anxiety considerably, based on clinical anxiety scores.

The results also suggest that music therapy may increase the quality of life of patients. Music also seemed to help with the mood and pain levels of patients, though not depression. And smaller beneficial effects were seen on heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, the researchers say.

The researchers say more study is needed to increase the certainty that music helps anxiety and also to improve understanding of the impact of music on distress and body image.

Music and Mood

Music therapists may provide the opportunity for patients to sing, play an instrument, select a particular piece or type of music, or even participate in a discussion about music, according to the American Music Therapy Association.

The American Cancer Society says that music therapy "may be used to encourage emotional expression, promote social interaction, relieve symptoms, and for other purposes" and that music therapists "may use active or passive methods with patients, depending on the individual patient's needs and abilities."


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SOURCES: News release, Drexel University.Bradt, J. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.American Cancer Society: "Music Therapy."American Music Therapy Association. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.