Music Interventions for Improving Psychological and Physical Outcomes in Cancer Patients


Joke Bradt


Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews




Background: Having cancer may result in extensive emotional, physical and social suffering. Music interventions have been used to alleviate symptoms and treatment side effects in cancer patients.; Objectives: To assess and compare the effects of music therapy and music medicine interventions for psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer.; Selection Criteria: We included all randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials of music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in adult and pediatric patients with cancer. We excluded participants undergoing biopsy and aspiration for diagnostic purposes.; Data Collection and Analysis: Two review authors independently extracted the data and assessed the risk of bias. Where possible, we presented results in meta-analyses using mean differences and standardized mean differences. We used post-test scores. In cases of significant baseline difference, we used change scores.; Main Results: We identified 22 new trials for inclusion in this update. In total, the evidence of this review rests on 52 trials with a total of 3731 participants. We included music therapy interventions offered by trained music therapists, as well as music medicine interventions, which are defined as listening to pre-recorded music, offered by medical staff. We categorized 23 trials as music therapy trials and 29 as music medicine trials. The results suggest that music interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety in people with cancer, with a reported average anxiety reduction of 8.54 units (95% confidence interval (CI) −12.04 to −5.05, P < 0.0001) on the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory - State Anxiety (STAI-S) scale (range 20 to 80) and −0.71 standardized units (13 studies, 1028 participants; 95% CI −0.98 to −0.43, P < 0.00001; low quality evidence) on other anxiety scales, a moderate to strong effect. Results also suggested a moderately strong, positive impact on depression (7 studies, 723 participants; standardized mean difference (SMD): −0.40, 95% CI −0.74 to −0.06, P = 0.02; very low quality evidence), but because of the very low quality of the evidence for this outcome, this result needs to be interpreted with caution. We found no support for an effect of music interventions on mood or distress. Music interventions may lead to small reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure but do not appear to impact oxygen saturation level. We found a large pain-reducing effect (7 studies, 528 participants; SMD: −0.91, 95% CI −1.46 to −0.36, P = 0.001, low quality evidence). In addition, music interventions had a small to moderate treatment effect on fatigue (6 studies, 253 participants; SMD: −0.38, 95% CI −0.72 to −0.04, P = 0.03; low quality evidence), but we did not find strong evidence for improvement in physical functioning. The results suggest a large effect of music interventions on patients' quality of life (QoL), but the results were highly inconsistent across studies, and the pooled effect size for the music medicine and music therapy studies was accompanied by a large confidence interval (SMD: 0.98, 95% CI −0.36 to 2.33, P = 0.15, low quality evidence). A comparison between music therapy and music medicine interventions suggests a moderate effect of music therapy interventions for patients' quality of life (QoL) (3 studies, 132 participants; SMD: 0.42, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.78, P = 0.02; very low quality evidence), but we found no evidence of an effect for music medicine interventions. A comparison between music therapy and music medicine studies was also possible for anxiety, depression and mood, but we found no difference between the two types of interventions for these outcomes. The results of single studies suggest that music listening may reduce the need for anesthetics and analgesics as well as decrease recovery time and duration of hospitalization, but more research is needed for these outcomes. [See Full Text for entire Abstract]; Authors' Conclusions: This systematic review indicates that music inter entions may have beneficial effects on anxiety, pain, fatigue and QoL in people with cancer. Furthermore, music may have a small effect on heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Most trials were at high risk of bias and, therefore, these results need to be interpreted with caution.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Adolescents; Analgesic Intake; Anesthetic Intake; Anxiety Scales; Anxiety; Blood Pressure; Cancer; Children; Depression; Distress; Fatigue; Functional Status; Heart Rate; Hospital Length of Stay; Medication Use; Mood Scales; Mood; Music Listening; Music Medicine; Music Therapy; Oxygen Saturation; Pain Management and Control; Pain; Quality of Life; Recorded Music Listening; Recovery Time; Respiratory Rate; Vital signs

Indexed Terms

Anxiety; Neoplasms; Affect; Body Image; Depression; Fatigue; Neoplasms; Pain Management; Quality of Life; Standard of Care; Stress

Study Type

Systematic Review; Meta-Analysis; Quantitative Methods



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