Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Music plays a role in cancer coping skills, study finds


Music plays many roles for people throughout their lives. It can recall happy times, or be soothing during difficult times. A new study suggests that music has a powerful effect on a person’s ability to cope during cancer treatment.

The study, published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, followed 113 patients between the ages of 11-24 who were undergoing stem cell transplant treatments. Half of the patients participated in a therapeutic music video group, in which they wrote song lyrics and produced a music video about their experience with cancer. The other half of patients listened to audiobooks.

The study showed that the patients who participated in the music therapy group possessed better coping skills and experienced improved social interactions, compared to their audiobook-listening counterparts.

“Music therapy, and even just listening to music, can take peoples’ minds off of other things and allows people to be in the here and now,” says Katherine Puckett, PhD, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine at our hospitals.

“Cancer can bring losses, pain and hardship. Sometimes people almost forget to build pleasure into their lives. Music can be that outlet,” says Puckett. “Put simply, listening to or playing music just feels good.”

Music has been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can help the immune systems function better. Enjoying music can be a great break from the stress of cancer, helping people get in touch with other parts of themselves and their lives.

Benefiting from the positive effects of music can come in all forms, with the simplest way being to listen to music you enjoy. Other ways to incorporate music into everyday life include:

  • Play an instrument
  • Sing a song
  • Participate in a group class where you can either listen to music or play along
  • Participate in a gong bath
  • Talk with a therapist about the feelings certain music evokes in you

“When people use music to help cope with cancer, they can feel moved in ways they hardly have words for,” says Puckett. “To be seen, known and understood in a totally different way other than talking can be a very powerful thing.”