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Music Therapy May Reduce Anxiety, Increase Quality of Life in Cancer Patients


Separately, music therapy has been found to have beneficial effects on mental health and pain management. As cancer patients often experience anxiety, mood changes, and pain during treatments, researchers have studied the effects that sessions with trained music therapists in this population and found that the addition of a music intervention can bring about significant improvements in quality of life.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credential professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. (American Music Therapy Association definition, 2005) The music therapist assesses emotional well-being, physical health and cognitive skills through musical responses and designs sessions based on the evaluated needs. People at all stages of life from childhood to the elderly can benefit from music therapy.

Read: Listening To Music Can Reduce Chronic Pain and Depression By Up To a Quarter

Dr. Joke Bradt, an associate professor at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, conducted a systematic review of 30 trials consisting of data gathered from 1,891 participants. In 13 of the trials, music therapy conducted by a trained professional was used and in 17 of the trials, patients listened to prerecorded music. The researchers focused on the results from patients with any kind of cancer for their review.

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Compared to standard treatments, music overall reduced anxiety considerably based on clinical anxiety scores. Patients who took sessions with music therapists showed an improvement in mood and quality of life and a decrease in pain. Smaller benefits were also seen for heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.

The American Cancer Society notes that prior studies of music therapy in cancer patients have found that it may also help reduce some side effects of cancer treatment, such as relieving chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Music may also help make some treatments less uncomfortable, says Dr. Deforia Lane, director of music therapy at University Hospitals of Cleveland Ireland Cancer Center.

Read: Lower Blood Pressure with Music and Laughter

Dr. Bradt concludes that “music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer” and that “the beauty of music can bring renewed hope for patients and their loved ones.” More studies are needed as there is currently not enough evidence to determine if music therapy sessions or listening to pre-recorded music is more effective than the other. Other interventions, such as singing and playing a musical instrument, may also be of benefit as well.


  • 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.
  • The American Cancer Society
  • CancerConnect.com