Music therapy quells pain in people with cancer

Music therapy may help people with cancer to reduce their anxiety and pain, a new review suggests.

Music therapy may help people with cancer to reduce their anxiety and pain, a new review suggests.

The treatment ranges from patients listening to pre-recorded music to music therapy sessions. In these sessions, trained music  therapists aim to improve psychological and physical well-being using personally tailored music experiences.
Music and music therapy are used in a wide range of clinical settings, including for people with cancer and Alzheimer's diseases. Evidence suggests music is a complementary treatment for cancer. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

The online issue of Cochrane Reviews, an international publication that scrutinizes health information, released on Wednesday the analysis of evidence of 1,891 patients taking part in 30 trials.

Trained music therapists were involved in 13 of the trials and patients listened to recordings in the remainder. How long and how often patients participated in music sessions varied greatly among the trials.

"The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer," lead researcher Joke Bradt, associate professor in the department of creative arts therapies at Philadelphia's Drexel University, said in a release.

Anxiety scores fell among people with cancer and the results also pointed to a helpful effect on mood, the reviewers said.

Music therapy may also lead to small reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in cancer patients, they concluded. The therapy also had a moderate pain-reducing effect.

"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," said Bradt.

The reviewers could find no evidence of music therapy's influence on depression, fatigue, or physical status, but few trials investigate those effects.

There has also been little research looking into how music may affect distress, body image and other aspects, the reviewers said.