by Woods M

Cancer symptoms and treatment side effects are difficult for patients to manage. The disease can cause both physical pain as well as anxiety and depression. Alternative therapies are being tried to better manage symptoms and side effects and improve quality of life.

Prior research on music interventions showed benefit reducing anxiety and pain during cancer-related procedures. Researchers wanted to assess and compare the effects of music on psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer. The study, published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that music interventions may have beneficial effects on anxiety, pain, fatigue, and depression in patients with cancer.

About the Study

The systematic review included 52 randomized trials evaluating music therapy or music medicine. Music therapy is the use of music by a music therapist to help patients. Music medicine is when medical staff offer a patient pre-recorded music to listen to. The review included 3,731 participants with cancer.

The review found that participants who received music therapy or music medicine had reduced:

  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

The evidence regarding music therapy's impact on mood showed that there may be a benefit, but in a few cases music interventions may worsen mood. In addition, the review did not find music interventions beneficial to quality of life or physical functioning.

How Does This Affect You?

A systematic review combines a number of smaller trials to create a larger pool of participants. The larger the pool of participants the more reliable the outcomes are. However, the review is only as reliable as the studies that are included. The trials included in this review had many limitations. For example, there were issues with how some of the trials were done that could have allowed researchers to affect the outcome. More research could help clarify any benefits music interventions may provide and which type of intervention may be best.

Music interventions are used to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. It is a safe treatment that does not have negative side effects. If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms or side effects from cancer treatments, talk to your doctor about alternative therapies like music interventions. Your doctor may be able to provide a referral to a qualified music therapist.


American Psychiatric Association 

Mental Health America 


Bradt J, Dileo C, et al. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Aug 15;(8):CD006911.

Cancer pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated November 22, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2016

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