Music Interventions Improve Anxiety, Pain in Cancer Patients



DENVER – Playing a musical instrument, singing, or simply listening to recorded music resulted in significant reduction in anxiety scores in patients with cancer, according to a Cochrane Database systematic review and meta-analysis.

The various music interventions offered by medical staff or trained music therapists also achieved significant improvements in the secondary end points of pain, mood, and quality of life scores, according to the review by investigators in the department of creative arts therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Photo Bruce Jancin/IMNG Medical Media

Dr. Wendy Anderson

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine, Dr. Wendy Anderson highlighted the Cochrane review findings as particularly on-point for her colleagues in oncology and palliative medicine.

"In palliative care we’re always trying to make the best of a difficult situation, and sometimes the best way to do this is through a nonpharmacologic intervention, even though it means doing something outside of our comfort zone," commented Dr. Anderson of the University of California, San Francisco.

Prior studies of music interventions in patients with cancer have been quite small. The Cochrane meta-analysis was designed to yield stronger, more definitive conclusions by incorporating those small studies which were sufficiently similar to combine.

The Cochrane report included 30 randomized clinical trials in seven countries with a total of 1,891 participating patients of all ages and with all types of cancer. In all, 13 trials involved the use of trained music therapists, while in the other 17 in the intervention consisted of listening to various genres of prerecorded music selected by the patients. Sessions were typically 30-45 minutes in length. The number of sessions varied widely from study to study. Subjects in the control arm received usual care or in some studies listened to white noise through headphones.

Sixteen randomized trials assessed anxiety. Collectively they showed that music interventions achieved statistically and clinically meaningful reductions in anxiety scores, with median to large effect sizes. For example, mean scores on the State Trait Anxiety Inventory fell by a mean of 11.2 units following the various music interventions while remaining unchanged in controls.

Similarly, the reduction in pain scores and improvements in structured measures of mood and quality of life in participants in the music interventions as compared to controls were also in the moderate to large range.

"Those are important outcomes in our patients with cancer," Dr. Anderson observed.

Music therapy is an established profession. Trained music therapists can perform a detailed patient evaluation and provide a tailored music experience. Although the Drexel researchers sought to learn whether the more elaborate, active participation music interventions provided by trained music therapists result in bigger improvements in psychologic and physical outcomes than the simpler music-listening interventions offered by medical staff, the investigators found that the research database wasn’t sufficiently large to draw any conclusions on that score (Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2011 [doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006911]).

The Cochrane group self-rated the quality of evidence on which the music intervention meta-analysis was based as low because these were nonblinded randomized trials. Patient awareness of whether they received a music intervention may have biased the results.

"Usually a low quality of evidence would, I think, make us reluctant to admit some innovations into our practices, but what’s interesting here is there’s a low potential for harm from music, and the patients feel the music improves their symptoms. That may be enough for us to implement music interventions in our practices," Dr. Anderson concluded.

The Cochrane review was funded by the State of Pennsylvania Formula Fund.

Dr. Anderson reported having no financial conflicts.

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