Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Creative arts therapy benefits cancer patients, research says

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People with cancer who engage in creative arts therapy experience less depression and anxiety than those who don’t, according to a review of research trials conducted over 23 years.

A paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 27 studies involving almost 1,600 people, some who were randomly assigned to participate in creative arts therapy such as music, art and dance.

The benefits of creative arts therapy were akin to those experienced with integrative oncology services such as yoga and acupuncture, the research review found. Study participants who engaged in creative arts therapy reported less depression, anxiety and pain than those who didn’t.

Overall, they said they had a better quality of life during the time they engaged in creative arts therapy. A 2010 study focused on music found that 42 percent of hospitalized patients who listened to familiar music for a half hour cut their pain levels in half.

Elaine Smith, manager of the Mind-Body Medicine Department at CTCA near Atlanta, wasn’t surprised but pleased and encouraged with the findings of the research review. In her past year at CTCA near Atlanta, Smith has seen the impact of creative arts therapy and other mind-body therapies, such as laughter and yoga, on patients.

“Through creative arts, we are channeling our energy to have a positive impact on our body’s immune system, thus reducing the negative impact of anxiety, stress and depression,” Smith said. “It relieves worry and helps us get a focus of control.”

When Smith attends the creative arts class at CTCA near Atlanta she sees patients and caregivers tap into their creativity and let go of their stress. The hospital, which opened last year, is planning to a launch a music therapy class in coming months.

Researchers have theorized for several years that creative arts therapy helps cancer patients. But they there haven’t been rigorous studies to support the hypothesis. Relaxation, in general, can have therapeutic effects such as reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure and decreased anxiety. 

"People have really broadened their perspectives on what is health and have moved beyond just the physical," said Timothy Puetz, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health.