How music can help cancer patients

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A new study finds that music helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients, while also boosting their quality of life.

There are so many ways in which non-invasive strategies do wonders for our health – from doses of nature to laughter to spending time with animals and even houseplants – so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to find that music is salubrious as well.

A review of studies looking at the impact of music therapy (“personalized music experience offered by trained music therapists”) and music medicine (“listening to pre-recorded music provided by a doctor or nurse”) in people with cancer has found significant evidence that music does indeed ease symptoms of cancer.

In total, 52 trials were examined in the review, comprised of 3,731 participants with cancer.

"We found that music therapy interventions specifically help improve patients' quality of life," says Joke Bradt, PhD, associate professor in Drexel University's College of Nursing and Health Professions. "These are important findings as these outcomes play an important role in patients' overall well-being."

In addition to having a moderate-to-strong effect in easing patients' anxiety, they determined that music had a large treatment benefit for pain. For fatigue, a small-to-moderate treatment effect was found.

As well, small reductions in heart and respiratory rates were linked to music interventions. Lower blood pressure rates, too.

"The results of single studies suggest that music listening may reduce the need for anesthetics and analgesics, as well as decreased recovery time and duration of hospitalization," says Bradt and her team, "but more research is needed for these outcomes."

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