Written by Helen Cooke, Joke Bradt and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated May 20, 2017

Music therapy

Abstract and key points

  • Music therapy is a therapeutic intervention involving the use of music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.
  • Evidence exists for improvements in cancer-related anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue.
  • Some evidence exists for improvements in quality of life.
  • Most trials were at high risk of bias, so these results need to be interpreted with caution.
  • No safety issues are on record.

Music therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. The interventions used include playing instruments, vocal and instrumental improvisation, singing, composing/song writing, music-guided imagery and music listening. Music therapy is different from music medicine, which is defined as listening to pre-recorded music, offered by medical staff.

It has been suggested that music therapy can promote well-being, stress management, pain alleviation, emotional expression, memory enhancement, improved communication and physical rehabilitation.

Evidence suggests that music therapy may be a helpful supportive care intervention among various cancer populations. Results from the most recent and rigorous systematic review suggested that music interventions may have moderate to strong treatment effects on anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, and quality of life in people with cancer. Music interventions lead to small improvements in physiological responses such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. There is considerable variation between trials with regards to type of music intervention and dosage used and it is therefore not possible to generalise the result.

No safety issues are on record.

Citation Helen Cooke, Joke Bradt, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Music therapy [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Music-therapy. May 20, 2017.


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