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Music Therapy Reduces Pain and Anxiety in Cancer Patients

posted 11:27 PM EST, Sat August 13, 2011
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Research suggests that music therapy reduces cancer related anxiety and some pain.

To see just how well music therapy works to control things like pain, depression and anxiety in cancer patients, researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia examined data from 30 clinical studies involving 1891 study subjects.

In 13 of the studies, music therapists helped study subjects create music, use instruments or enjoy music through techniques like guided imagery. In the other 17 studies, subjects simply listened to prerecorded music. They found that:

  • After taking part in music therapy, cancer patients experienced significant reductions in anxiety, some reductions in pain and small improvements in physical health, such as improvements in blood pressure scores and heart and respiration rates.

The researchers say there was no one type of music identified as working better than another, rather it was matching music to the tastes and preferences of the listener that was most important.

Summing things up, lead study author Joke Bradt, Ph.D wrote in a press release that, "The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer."

Commenting on the results of the study, neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, Ph.D. of McGill University said that it wasn’t surprising that research showed how music could reduce anxiety, after all he said, “That's why lullabies exist to calm down babies who won't sleep."

He says that though the true benefits of music therapy as compared to medications aren’t totally known, there is little harm in trying to quell anxiety with music arguing, "The cost involved with music is very small compared to other kinds of interventions. How well it works say, compared to drugs is another question, but the side effects are very minimal as well. The worst thing that can happen [when] someone doesn't like music is that they can turn it off."

The full study results can be examined in the current online edition of Cochrane Reviews.

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Story Highlights
  • Music Therapy: Listening to music can ease cancer related anxiety and pain and even improve physical health
  • No Side Effects: Research has yet to compare the efficacy of music therapy to medications, but with music therapy there is little cost and no side effects and few reasons to not try it
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