NEW YORK - Music therapy may help lower anxiety and improve moods in people with cancer, although it's not clear what treatment - listening to pre-recorded CDs during hospital visits, or sessions with a music therapist - helps most, a study said.
An analysis of 30 past studies, published in the Cochrane Library, looked at the effect of music therapy or music listening in close to 2,000 cancer patients.
Compared to patients who only received standard cancer treatment, the combined data from the studies, reviewed by creative arts therapist Joke Bradt from Drexel University in Philadelphia, suggested that patients who also had music treatment rated their anxiety and pain lower, and had higher mood scores.
In addition, their heart rates were lower by about four beats per minute, on average.
"Music interventions may have beneficial effects on anxiety, pain, mood and quality of life in people with cancer," wrote Bradt and her colleagues.
"Furthermore, music may have a small effect on heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure."
There was no effect, however, on how patients rated their depression or fatigue - probably because most of the studies only tested the effect of listening to music in the hospital for a single session, and didn't give patients much choice about what type of music they listened to, Bradt said.
"If someone's really depressed, one music listening session is not going to reverse that," she told Reuters Health.
While there wasn't enough data to determine if going to a music therapist helped patients more than listening to CDs, Bradt said she suspects that's the case since with a music therapist, patients are usually involved in making music by singing or playing instruments.
Therapists can also design a treatment program for each particular patient, she added.
"The patient can become an active participant. It can be really empowering, and can help patients feel more in control over the situation," she said.
It can be hard to objectively compare anxiety and depression in patients getting music therapy and those not getting any extra treatment, Bradt and her colleagues explained, since if patients think music therapy will help them, they could feel better just because of extra optimism and expectation, rather than because of the therapy itself.
But Bradt said despite that, the potential positive effects of music treatment, especially with a trained music therapist, should be taken seriously.
Music therapist Debra Burns, from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said therapists especially can help patients relax during stressful treatments and think through their tension.
"We can use the different music interventions to target the in-the-moment-symptoms - pain, anxiety. But we can also look at longer-term interventions" such as improving communication with family members, added Burns, who was not involved in the study.
In addition, therapists can adapt treatment as they need to according to the patient's needs, she said, adding that further research may be needed to see what type of music works best, and at what stage of the treatment.
Burns said there were other, intangible benefits. "We cannot forget that making music is a lot of fun as well," she added.
SOURCE:The Cochrane Library