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Music Reduces Anxiety in People with Cancer


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People with cancer may benefit from sessions with trained music therapists or from listening to music. A new Cochrane systematic review shows using music can reduce anxiety in people with cancer, and it may also have positive effects on mood, pain, and quality of life.

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

“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer."

The researchers analyzed evidence from nearly 2,000 people taking part in 30 trials. Thirteen trials used trained music therapists, while in the remaining 17 trials, participants listened to pre-recorded music. 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 did. The results also suggest that music therapy may increase a person’s quality of life. There was some benefit in music for mood and pain, but 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,” says lead researcher Joke Bradt of the department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. “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.”

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2011.