Featured Review: Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients

Feature Review: Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients

Are there benefits of offering music interventions as a complementary treatment to people with cancer?

Cancer may result in extensive emotional, physical, and social suffering. Current cancer care increasingly incorporates psychosocial interventions to improve quality of life. Music therapy and music medicine interventions have been used to alleviate symptoms and treatment side effects and address psychosocial needs in people with cancer. In music medicine interventions, the patient simply listens to pre-recorded music that is offered by a medical professional. Music therapy requires the implementation of a music intervention by a trained music therapist, the presence of a therapeutic process, and the use of personally tailored music experiences.

A team of Cochrane authors based in the United States worked with Cochrane Gynaecological, Neuro-oncology and Orphan Cancers  to update a previous Cochrane Review from 2011 which assessed and compared the effects of music therapy and music medicine interventions for physiological and physical outcomes in people with cancer. The team identified 22 new trials for inclusion in this update, bringing the total number included in this Cochrane Review to 52 trials with 3731. Most trials were at high risk of bias, and therefore these results need to be interpreted with caution.

This Cochrane Review indicates that music interventions may have beneficial effects on anxiety, pain, fatigue, depression, and quality of life in people with cancer. Furthermore, the results suggest that music may reduce heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, though this reduction is rather small and therefore may not be clinically significant. Overall, evidence of the trials included in this review suggest that music interventions may be offered as a complementary treatment to people with cancer.

Music therapists who work with cancer patients do not limit their interventions to offering music listening for relaxation purposes. Music therapists are specially trained clinically and academically to carefully select music interventions to offer emotional and spiritual support, support communication with loved ones, enhance sense of control, and improve physical well-being in patients with cancer. Comparative analyses suggest that music therapy interventions lead to more consistent results across studies than music medicine studies. This is likely due to the fact that music therapists are trained to meet the individual needs of patients through music interventions (e.g. meeting the patient's in-the-moment needs when offering live music) rather than offering a limited selection of pre-recorded music which may not be suitable for all patients. Participants in a cross-over trial who experienced both music therapy and music medicine interventions overwhelmingly preferred the music therapy sessions because of the personal attention and care, the creativity of the interactive music making, and the opportunity for emotional expression through singing and playing instruments.

“The review is currently one of Cochrane Gynaecological, Neuro-oncology and Orphan Cancers' highest accessed reviews and this update includes an additional 22 studies in this area,” said Joke Bradt, Associate Professor at the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University and the lead author of the Cochrane Review. “We hope that this review may inform people with cancer, their caretakers, and physicians of the importance of therapies that work alongside medical treatment to improve the health, wellbeing, and recovery from cancer treatments. Overall, evidence of the trials included in this review suggest that music interventions offer benefits as a complementary treatment to people with cancer.”

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Monday, August 15, 2016
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