Music Reduces Anxiety in Cancer Patients

WATCH VIDEO: Dr. Joke Bradt discusses how cancer patients and caregivers can use music to cope with diagnosis and treatment.

LISTEN TO PODCAST: Dr. Bradt discusses the results of the Cochrane systematic review of music interventions for cancer patients.

Cancer patients may benefit from sessions with trained music therapists or from listening to music. Using music can reduce anxiety in cancer patients, and may also have positive effects on mood, pain and quality of life, according to a new Cochrane systematic review led by Dr. Joke Bradt, an associate professor in Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Music and music therapy are used in a wide range of clinical settings. Treatments range from patients listening to pre-recorded music, to music therapists engaging patients in music experiences to improve psychological and physical well-being. In their review, researchers focused on trials with patients with any kind of cancer who were offered music or music therapy sessions.

The researchers analyzed evidence from 1,891 patients taking part in 30 trials. Thirteen trials used trained music therapists, while in the remaining 17 trials, patients listened to pre-recorded music. How long and how often patients participated in music sessions varied greatly among trials. The results show that, compared to standard treatments, music reduced anxiety considerably based on clinical anxiety scores. Some trials reported much larger beneficial effects than others. The results also suggest that music therapy may increase patients’ quality of life. There was some benefit in music for mood and pain, although not depression. Smaller beneficial effects were seen for heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer,” said Bradt, a board-certified music therapist with expertise in medical music therapy. “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.” 

Bradt added, “It should be noted, however, that when patients can’t be blinded to an intervention, there is an opportunity for bias when they are asked to report on subjective measures like anxiety, pain, mood and quality of life.”

The researchers point out that the quality of evidence for some outcomes was low because of the small numbers of trials that have been carried out. Further trials could help increase certainty in the findings and improve understanding of music’s impact on distress, body image and other aspects, for which research is currently too scarce to draw any conclusions.

Bradt was the lead author of four previous Cochrane reviews on music interventions with medical patients. She is an associate professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel.

Full citation:

Bradt J, Dileo C, Grocke D, Magill L. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD006911. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006911.pub2.

Related video:

News media contact:
Rachel Ewing, News Officer, Drexel University Office of University Communications
215-895-2614, 215-298-4600 (cell),