Science Studies Music as a Cancer Treatment

A cancer diagnosis can cause fear and uncertainty for both the person who receives the news, as well as their loved ones. However, efforts that use music to assist cancer patients are starting to highlight the idea that music can be a powerful supplement to regular treatment regimens.

Simplicity is Key

A Kentucky organization known as Arts in Healing is just one example of an organization that partners with nearby healthcare centers to bring solace to people with cancer. But unlike other initiatives that host formal concerts to teach patients about certain styles of music, performers who are involved with Arts in Healing strive to be a nearly invisible source of calm.

Rather than using amplifiers to boost the music so it can be heard over the normal sounds of a bustling hospital, musicians play acoustically and blend in with the usual noises of chattering patients, ringing phones and public address announcements. The idea is that the music can still help patients, without being extremely loud or dramatic.

music as cancer treatment hospital

Not a Formal Program

The directors of the Arts in Healing program stress that it does not attempt to compete with formal music therapy programs. However, some people who have benefited from the efforts of Arts in Healing say the simple sound of music helps take their mind off of more unpleasant things, such as pain.

Fostering a Sense of Community

In a way, programs that use music as a relaxation strategy also teach hospital patients about the value of finding shared experiences through music. Some of the musicians rotate throughout an entire hospital, devoting several hours to sharing music with the residents. Many focus on playing recognizable songs, in hopes of helping patients find common bonds through music.

Also, the musicians note that without the program, some patients may not have the chance to hear live music at all. In some cases, cancer prevents a person from enjoying life outside of a hospital, particularly if they have a diagnoses that greatly compromises the immune system.

Fortunately, Arts in Healing brings the music directly to a person’s location, gently exposing them to tunes that aim to soothe and comfort during what can be an incredibly difficult time.

Music As a Way to Cope With Unpleasant Side Effects

Although cancer treatments have come a long way through the years, most still include a variety of side effects ranging from hair loss to severe nausea, among many others.

However, a study performed by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that cancer patients who received bone marrow transplants had better outcomes after using positive mental imagery, playing musical instruments and even simply talking about their favorite types of music.

From a scientific perspective, researchers noted that music seemed to spur new bone marrow into producing blood cells more quickly. Also, patients noticed fewer incidences of nausea, and said that their pain was less intense. These benefits came even as participants only met twice a week to take part in music-related activities.

Although there’s still more research to do, these examples demonstrate that music can play an important role in helping people feel more at ease during the uncertain times of a cancer diagnosis and the resultant treatments.

About the Author

Stacie Everett is a writer with a passion for music. If you are interested in learning more about music education and the importance of the arts, UF’s masters in music education can turn your passion into a career.

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