For Patients & Caregivers
Bottom Line: Music can promote relaxation and distraction from pain associated with many illnesses.
Music therapy has emerged as a formal discipline in the United States in the 1940s. Currently, there are over 5,000 trained therapists working throughout the country. Patients listen to or perform music under the guidance of a professionally trained music therapist. Studies have shown that music reduces anxiety, stress and pain after surgery. Music is thought to reduce blood pressure in the listeners. It improves coordination in stroke and Parkinson’s disease patients. Music helps improve social and emotional aspects in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and improved quality of life in patients with dementia. A recent study has shown that music is effective in improving depressive symptoms. Music has clinically significant benefits for premature infants in intensive care units. It also helps to change behaviors in children with autism and to reduce anxiety and increase comfort in hospitalized children with cancer. Music therapy can reduce mood disturbance in cancer patients undergoing stem cell transplantation. It also reduced anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy and improved the quality of life in people with terminal cancer.
Because music therapy is noninvasive and free of side effects, it is being added into the standard care in major cancer hospitals.
Several clinical trials have shown that music therapy can help to reduce pain.
This use is supported by clinical trials.
- Cancer-related symptoms
Several studies support music therapy for reduction of many symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments including pain, anxiety and mood disturbances.
In one study, blood cancer patients receiving music therapy during autologous stem-cell transplantation had less mood disturbance when compared to those in the control group.
Another study showed that terminal cancer patients who received music therapy experienced improved quality of life compared to the control group.
But a systematic review of music therapy trials showed that many studies are poorly designed with small sample size leading to biased reporting of results.
For Healthcare Professionals
Music as therapy has been used since ancient times. It emerged as a formal discipline in the United States in the late 1940s. Currently, there are over 5,000 music therapists working in clinical settings throughout the country. Patients listen to or perform music under the guidance of a professionally trained music therapist. Music can promote relaxation and provide distraction from pain. It has been used to reduce postoperative pain (13) and to help alleviate anxiety and stress (1)(2). Conclusions of a systematic review support music therapy in alleviating pre-operative anxiety (20).
Music may also help in improving social and emotional aspects in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (3)(4)(5) and improved quality of life in patients with dementia (6) and stroke (7). A randomized trial showed the positive effects of group music therapy on improving mild to moderate dementia in elderly individuals (21).
Music was also shown superior to standard care in reducing anxiety among intensive care unit patients receiving acute ventilatory support for respiratory failure (23).
Music therapy may also help alleviate symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. It reduced mood disturbance (10), improved coping and social integration (24) in cancer patients undergoing autologous stem cell transplantation, a procedure known to cause significant psychological distress . Other data indicate that music alleviates pain (15) and anxiety in breast cancer patients (14), in those receiving chemotherapy (16) and radiation therapy (11), and improves the quality of life in people with terminal cancer (12). Music also reduces pain and anxiety, and increases comfort in hospitalized children with cancer (9)(17). Women undergoing colposcopy reported reduced anxiety and pain perception after listening to slow-rhythm music (8)(22).
Conclusions from systematic reviews, however, question the clinical significance of music therapy for treating pain (18), and also point to the poor methodology in several music therapy trials (19).
Because music therapy is noninvasive and free of side effects, it is integrated into standard care in major cancer hospitals to help relieve pain and physical and psychological discomfort.
This systematic review involving 30 clinical trials and 1891 subjects was conducted to compare the effects of music therapy or music medicine interventions and standard care with standard care alone, or standard care and other interventions in improving psychological and physical outcomes in patients with cancer. Databases used for the review included the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 10), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, LILACS, Science Citation Index, CancerLit, www.musictherapyworld.net, CAIRSS, Proquest Digital Dissertations, ClinicalTrials.gov, Current Controlled Trials, and the National Research Register.
Results indicate beneficial effects of music on anxiety, pain, mood, and quality of life in cancer patients. However, the authors point to the lack of a robust study design in several trials included in the review. Additional studies with strong methodology are needed to establish use of music therapy.
Cassileth BR, et al. Music therapy for mood disturbance during hospitalization for autologous stem cell transplantation: a randomized controlled trial. Cancer 2003;98(12):2723-9.
This study involved 69 patients with hematologic malignancy scheduled to undergo high-dose therapy with autologous stem cell transplantation (HDT/ASCT), a procedure that causes significant psychological distress. Patients were randomized to receive music therapy given by trained music therapists or standard care. Patients who received music therapy reported less mood disturbance compared to the control group. Researchers suggest that music therapy can be used as an effective intervention to reduce mood disturbance in patients undergoing HDT/ASCT.
Hilliard RE. The effects of music therapy on the quality and length of life of people diagnosed with terminal cancer. J Music Ther 2003;40(2):113-37.
Eighty patients with terminal cancer were randomly assigned in this study to receive music therapy or routine care. All participants received at least two visits and quality of life assessments. Patients who received music therapy experienced increased quality of life compared to those who received only routine care. Although there were no significant differences between the two groups in physical functioning or length of life, music therapy improved the quality of life in patients with terminal cancer.