Music Interventions Improve Cancer and Treatment Symptoms

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The Healing Arts Program at Montefiore employs music therapy for cancer patients.
The Healing Arts Program at Montefiore employs music therapy for cancer patients.

Benefits of music-related interventions for patients with cancer range from a moderate-to-strong effect to a small reduction in symptoms for various effects of the disease and its treatment, a review of trials published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews has shown.1

Because patients with cancer have used music interventions to improve their symptoms and treatment side effects, Joke Bradt, PhD, associate professor at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, and colleagues reviewed 52 trials, involving 3731 participants, on the use of music therapy (23 trials) and music medicine (29 trials) to determine the impact of these interventions on psychological and physical outcomes in patients with cancer.

Music therapy is defined as a personalized music experience offered by trained music therapists. Music medicine is defined as listening to prerecorded music provided by a doctor or nurse.2

Study results reviewed by Bradt's team showed music interventions had significant impacts on anxiety. Reductions in pain and fatigue were classified as large and small-to-moderate, respectively. In addition, small improvements were seen in heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure.

Although single studies suggest that listening to music reduced the need for anesthetics and analgesics, and decreased recovery time and length of hospital stays, the authors note that more research on these outcomes is needed. Quality of life was moderately improved with music therapy; however, music medicine did not appear to have the same effect.

In terms of the benefits to patients with cancer, the researchers hope these results will prompt a more widespread use of music interventions.

“We hope that the findings of this review will encourage health care providers in medical settings to seriously consider the use of music therapy in the psychosocial care of people with cancer,” Bradt said.2


1. Bradt J, Dileo C, Magill L, Teague A. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Aug 15;8:CD006911. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Music demonstrated to alleviate cancer patients' symptoms [news release]. EurekAlert! website.  Published August 17, 2016. Accessed August 29, 2016.

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