“People with cancer very often feel like their body has been taken over by the cancer. They feel overwhelmed,” said Dr. Joke Bradt, a music therapist from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“To be able to engage in a creative process… that stands in a very stark contrast to sort of passively submitting oneself to cancer treatments,” said Bradt.
Researchers analyzed 27 past studies of nearly 1,600 people who were randomly assigned to receive some form of creative arts therapy or not, during or after cancer treatment. Most of the patients had breast cancer or a type of blood cancer—such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Music, art and dance therapy programs varied in how often the sessions were held and over what time span. Over half of the programs did not involve counseling with trained therapists.
Overall, patients with cancer who were assigned to creative arts treatments reported less depression, anxiety and pain and a better quality of life during the programs than those who were put on a wait list or continued receiving typical care.
For example, in one 2010 study, listening to half an hour of familiar music dropped pain levels in half for 42 percent of hospitalized patients, while just eight percent of those in a comparison group experienced relief.
Those in creative arts therapy did not report being any less tired than patients assigned to a control group. And most of the other benefits discontinued once therapy ended, the researchers reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers noted that the benefits tied to creative arts therapies were small, but similar to those of other complementary techniques such as yoga and acupuncture.
Lead author Timothy Puetz, Ph.D., from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., said researchers have believed music and art therapy may help cancer patients “for a long time,” although rigorous studies have been lacking.
“People have really broadened their perspectives on what is health and have moved beyond just the physical,” said Puetz.
“More and more clinicians and certified creative arts therapists… they’re actually reaching out to each other now, and discussions are on the table to try to bring this type of therapy to cancer patients.”
Bradt said that, for some patients, working directly with an arts therapist may be most helpful, but it isn’t essential. For example, anyone looking to refocus away from the anxiety of a cancer diagnosis and treatment can join a choir or an art class.
“We all know that music or art or just aesthetic beauty in general makes us feel better,” she said. “I do not want to underestimate the power of just the arts by themselves.”
Source: JAMA Internal Medicine