Using the arts to heal cancer patients

Using the arts to heal cancer patients

Music, art and dance therapy may improve the quality of life for people with cancer, according to a recent review of research.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, determines that creative arts therapies can reduce anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue in cancer patients. The conclusion is based on analysis of results from trials conducted between 1989 and 2011, including 27 studies of close to 1,600 people who did or did not receive some form of creative arts therapy during or after cancer treatment.

The authors set out to “estimate the effect of [creative art therapies] on psychological symptoms and [quality of life] in cancer patients during treatment and follow-up,” according to the study.

They concluded that patients who were assigned to creative arts treatments reported less depression, anxiety and pain compared to those who did not receive creative arts treatments. However, the researchers also found that these effects were “not long lasting” and greatly diminished at follow-up.

“Exposure to [creative arts therapies] can improve anxiety, depression, and pain symptoms and [quality of life] among cancer patients, but this effect is reduced during follow-up,” write the authors in the study.

In an accompanying commentary, also published by JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Joke Bradt and Dr. Sheryl Goodill note that “We are excited to see yet another systematic review confirm the health benefits of arts interventions in cancer patients.”

The pair does note, however, that there are a couple of shortcomings in the study. Namely, research on the effectiveness of creative arts therapies requires more clarity about the definitions used and the interventions themselves.

Despite this and other limitations, though, Drs. Bradt and Goodill emphasize that they “hope that this rapidly expanding evidence will inspire cancer patients to include the arts and/or [creative arts therapies] in their treatment regimen so that their psychosocial well-being can be safeguarded during the challenging treatment and recovery period.”

“Music therapy can be effective with behavior management for individuals in the hospital but also those with dementia,” says Sue Durkin, geriatric nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill, who has helped start a music therapy program at the hospital. “The use of music seems to have a contagious effect to all those around. Patients, family members and staff smile more.”

Durkin says most importantly there are so many benefits for the patients with improvement in aggressive behaviors and ease of pain symptoms.

Related Posts


Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.