• Melanie

8 ways music therapy benefits cancer patients

Updated: May 1, 2019

We’ve all heard the saying music soothes the soul - but if you or someone you love is going through cancer, you might be wondering just how effective music therapy truly is. Read on, and find out.



“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” - Bob Marley

In ancient Greece, music was believed to heal body and soul. Across time, a myriad of cultures around the world have used singing and chanting as part of their healing rituals.


Now, imagine for a moment that music therapy could have real health benefits as you or someone you love go through cancer. Can music really help us feel no pain?


What is music therapy for cancer?


Is music therapy the same as listening to pre-recorded music?

Not quite. What is referred to as music medicine intervention is simply listening to pre-recorded music given to you by a doctor or medical staff. Music therapy is an intervention made especially for you by a trained Music Therapist.


What do Music Therapists do?

Music Therapists are trained professionals who can work with anyone from children to elderly people for any health conditions from cancer and Alzheimer's disease to substance abuse and brain injury.


Music Therapists use musical performance, lessons, songwriting, and music listening as part of an integrative course of therapy to improve the individual client’s social, emotional, physical, and/or cognitive abilities.

A music therapist can work closely with your medical team (nurse, doctor, counsellor, physical therapist, etc.) to help you reach your goal through your cancer journey.


How effective is music therapy for cancer?


Cochrane (my go-to-source for health decisions) conducted a review of evidence for music interventions spanning 52 studies with 3731 participants. Here's what they found:

Music therapy and music medicine interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, fatigue, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in people with cancer.

Top 3 health benefits of music


1. Pain reducer

Listening to pre-recorded music had a large pain-reducing effect across 7 studies (528 participants). Bob Marley was right after all!


2. Energy booster

Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment. 252 participants across 6 studies who listen to music show a reduction in fatigue.

3. Anxiety relief

Music appears to have a great calming effect when it comes to reducing anxiety, and to some extent depression, in people living with cancer.


4 bonus benefits


Better quality of life

Music therapy offered by a trained Music Therapist could help improve quality of life - although the results were inconsistent across the 3 studies (132 participants), so let's take it with a grain of salt.


Better heart rate, respiratory and blood pressure

Research show that listening to music may have a small positive effect on heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.


Better recovery time

Who would have thought that listening to music may reduce the need for pain killers or even reduce our hospital stay? But more research is needed before we send our anaesthetist home!


The jury is still out on whether music helps boost immunity, coping, resilience or communication. Then again, I could tell you the story of how music helped me cope on my cancer journey. I remember listening to the song We are Young by Fun while going through a blood test (they terrify me!) and it really did help me to face my fear and go through with it. So if it works for you, just pop those headphones on, sit back, and enjoy!


I'll soon be uploading a Girls Rocking Cancer playlist on Spotify - stay tuned! :)


Love,






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