Cancer treatments save lives, but they can be hard on the body and spirit. Now, new research suggests that a distinctly non-medical treatment—listening to music—may help buoy cancer patients' mood and take the edge off their pain and anxiety.
The researchers pooled data from 30 small studies looking at the effects of music on people with cancer. The findings were striking: People who listened to a music CD or had sessions with a music therapist had lower scores on anxiety tests than those only having standard care. Their level of pain was also lower, and they had slight improvements in their blood pressure, and their heart and breathing rates.
People having music treatment also rated their mood and quality of life higher. But they did not show any improvement in their level of depression or fatigue. There weren't enough studies to say which type of music treatment worked best, or what variety of music was most helpful.
The quality of most of the studies was not very good, so we need more research to confirm these results. However, it's notable that the review's strongest finding—that music may lower patients' anxiety—is echoed in reviews of studies on music for people who have heart disease or are using a device to help them breathe (mechanical ventilation). This gives added weight to this finding.
Bottom line: If you have cancer and are feeling anxious or distressed, be sure to tell your doctor. He or she may be able to relieve some of your worries and recommend treatments and support. You might also see if listening to music helps. We don't yet know what type of music might be best, but experts say compositions with a slow tempo and no abrupt changes or sharp tones are relaxing for most people.
Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients [The Cochrane Library]
—Sophie Ramsey, BMJ Group
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