July 26, 2023

Study finds music reduces stress, improves mood during chemotherapy

A study conducted by Wayne State University School of Medicine and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute researchers and physicians has found that patients who listened to music while undergoing chemotherapy showed significant benefit in improved positive mood and reduced distress during treatment.

The study, “Using Music as a Tool for Distress Reduction During Cancer Chemotherapy Treatment,” is published in the journal JCO Oncology Practice.

Felicity Harper, Ph.D.

“Music medicine is a low-touch, low-risk and cost-effective way to manage patients’ psychological wellbeing in the often stressful context of a cancer infusion clinic,” said Felicity Harper, Ph.D., associate professor of Oncology the School of Medicine and KCI, and lead author of the study. “There were significant differences in change in positive and negative mood and distress (although not pain) from pre- to post-intervention between the music and control groups. Participants who were married or widowed and those receiving disability income reported greater benefit outcomes after listening to music.”

Future research should be directed to understanding other factors that may mitigate negative mood states and pain for certain groups during treatment, Dr. Harper said.

The study involved 750 adult patients receiving outpatient chemotherapy infusion. Patients were randomly assigned to listen to no music, or, up to 60 minutes of music during treatment. Patients listening to music patients were allowed to self-select an iPod programmed with up to 500 minutes of music from a single genre (Motown, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, classical and country). Outcomes were self-reported change in pain, positive and negative mood, and distress.

After the listening period, music participants completed a postsurvey assessing pain, positive and negative mood, and distress levels. They also recorded the amount of time spent listening to music.

The average study participant was 60.39 years old and female (65%). Twenty-eight percent of the sample identified as African American; the remainder were White (68%) or other ethnicities (1% Asian, 1% American Indian/Native Alaskan, and 2% multiracial). The majority were married or in a committed relationship (56%). Forty-one percent had a high school education or less with 24% having some college. The majority of participants had advanced (stage III or IV) cancer (58%).

The most frequently selected music genre was Motown (28%) followed by hits from the ’80s (20%). The majority of intervention participants (90%) indicated they were very satisfied or quite satisfied with their music selection and listened to music for an average of 56.68 minutes out of the possible 60-minute listening period.

Study patients who listened to music reported more positive and less negative mood, less distress, and lower pain post-procedure than the control participants. There was no significant difference in change for pain between the two groups.

Other members of the research team included Allison Heath, B.S., of the WSU Department of Oncology; Tanina Foster Moore, Ph.D., of the WSU Department of Oncology and the Karmanos Population Studies and Disparities Research Program; Seongho Kim, Ph.D., professor of Oncology for the School of Medicine and Karmanos, and Elisabeth Heath, M.D., professor of Oncology for the School of Medicine and Karmanos.

The study was supported by funding from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

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