Music, we can pretty much all agree, is a good thing. New research suggests that it can benefit cancer patients, too.
A review of 30 previous trials involving 1,891 participants found that both formal music therapy and informally listening to music appeared to help reduce anxiety and pain, and improved quality of life for people with cancer.
The analysis, published Wednesday by the Cochrane Library, which is known for its systematic reviews of medical interventions, came with plenty of caveats. A key one is that virtually none of the studies examined were “blinded” — a gold standard of medical research, intended to prevent bias, in which participants don’t know whether or not they received an intervention. It’s pretty hard not to know that you are listening to music.
On the other hand, there’s not much of a downside to using music as a supplement to other treatment.
“It’s cheaper than medicine. It’s good for the body,” said Joke Bradt, an associate professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.
Bradt, whose first name is pronounced Yohka, was lead author of the review, which she discusses in a video. As a certified music therapist, she has seen the benefits of various interventions with chronic pain patients. Singing and vocal improvisations, for example, helps them reconnect with their bodies, she says — literally, by feeling the vibrations of high-frequency vowel sounds (“eeee”) in the head and upper body, and lower frequencies (“oooo”) in the lower areas.
She suggests that interested patients seek out a board-certified music therapist. (Both the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists list credentialed therapists.)
There are also things you can do on your own, by listening “purposefully.”
“Say, ‘I am going to listen to this piece of music with great intent.’ Use the music to refocus. As a way to calm down,” she said. “But also to know that listening to the beauty of music can really help you get some hope again and feel comforted and feel validated.” Music that can evoke imagery, like of a place you like to go, can be helpful.
What kind of music?
“If it’s rap music that they like, then they should be listening to rap,” Bradt said. “There’s a misconception that it needs to be classical music. I would never use Mozart or Bach if the patient doesn’t listen to Mozart or Bach.”
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