People with cancer generally experience a wide range of physical, social and emotional pain.
Music therapy-based interventions can ease these symptoms and reduce the side-effects of cancer treatments.
A new review of the research has found four main benefits: reducing anxiety, pain and fatigue, while increasing quality of life.
Dr Joke Bradt and her team examined 52 trials that tested the effects of music medicine and music therapy and their physical and psychological outcomes on cancer patients.
Music medicine is listening to pre-recorded music offered by a doctor or nurse and music therapy is a tailored music experience designed by trained music therapists.
Dr Bradt said:
“We found that music therapy interventions specifically help improve patients’ quality of life.
These are important findings as these outcomes play an important role in patients’ overall well-being.”
About 3,731 cancer patients participated in these trials, 29 of these were categorised as music medicine interventions while the remaining 23 were music therapy trials.
Overall, music interventions of all kinds appeared to have a moderate to strong effect in reducing participants’ anxiety.
The treatment benefit was huge for pain reduction but for fatigue the treatment effect was small to moderate.
Music interventions also helped when it came to blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate reduction.
Dr Bradt and colleagues said:
“The results of single studies suggest that music listening may reduce the need for anesthetics and analgesics, as well as decreased recovery time and duration of hospitalization, but more research is needed for these outcomes.”
Music therapy improved quality of life in cancer patients moderately, but this wasn’t the case for the music medicine group.
Dr Bradt added:
“Both music medicine and music therapy interventions play an important role in cancer care but we didn’t quite know yet which interventions may be best suited for which type of outcome.”
The research team recommend the widespread use of music interventions in cancer patients, particularly for their positive effects on pain, fatigue and anxiety.
Dr Bradt concluded:
“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.”
The study was published in the Cochrane Library (Bradt et al., 2016).
Music image from Shutterstock