Art education benefits blood cancer patients


Photo courtesy of CDC

Doctor and patient

New research suggests a bedside visual art intervention (BVAI) can reduce pain and anxiety in inpatients with hematologic malignancies, including those undergoing transplant.

The BVAI involved an educator teaching patients art technique one-on-one for approximately 30 minutes.

After a single session, patients had significant improvements in positive mood and pain scores, as well as decreases in negative mood and anxiety.

Alexandra P. Wolanskyj, MD, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and her colleagues reported these results in the European Journal of Cancer Care.

The study included 21 patients, 19 of them female. Their median age was 53.5 (range, 19-75). Six patients were undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

The patients had multiple myeloma (n=5), acute myeloid leukemia (n=5), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (n=3), Hodgkin lymphoma (n=2), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (n=1), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (n=1), amyloidosis (n=1), Gardner-Diamond syndrome (n=1), myelodysplastic syndrome (n=1), and Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (n=1).

Nearly half of patients had relapsed disease (47.6%), 23.8% had active and new disease, 19.0% had active disease with primary resistance on chemotherapy, and 9.5% of patients were in remission.


The researchers recruited an educator from a community art center to teach art at the patients’ bedsides. Sessions were intended to be about 30 minutes. However, patients could stop at any time or continue beyond 30 minutes.

Patients and their families could make art or just observe. Materials used included watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils, and clay (all non-toxic and odorless). The materials were left with patients so they could continue to use them after the sessions.


The researchers assessed patients’ pain, anxiety, and mood at baseline and after the patients had a session with the art educator.

After the BVAI, patients had a significant decrease in pain, according to the Visual Analog Scale (VAS). The 14 patients who reported any pain at baseline had a mean reduction in VAS score of 1.5, or a 35.1% reduction in pain (P=0.017).

Patients had a 21.6% reduction in anxiety after the BVAI. Among the 20 patients who completed this assessment, there was a mean 9.2-point decrease in State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) score (P=0.001).

In addition, patients had a significant increase in positive mood and a significant decrease in negative mood after the BVAI. Mood was assessed in 20 patients using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) scale.

Positive mood increased 14.6% (P=0.003), and negative mood decreased 18.0% (P=0.015) after the BVAI. Patients’ mean PANAS scores increased 4.6 points for positive mood and decreased 3.3 points for negative mood.

All 21 patients completed a questionnaire on the BVAI. All but 1 patient (95%) said the intervention was positive overall, and 85% of patients (n=18) said they would be interested in participating in future art-based interventions.

The researchers said these results suggest experiences provided by artists in the community may be an adjunct to conventional treatments in patients with cancer-related mood symptoms and pain.

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