Using music as a tool for distress reduction during cancer treatment

January 18, 2019

Music is the soundtrack of our lives — it wakes us up in the morning, entertains us on the way to work and keeps us company while shopping and waiting for the doctor. Music therapy is the use of interventions to reduce pain and anxiety, and aid in stress management and emotional expression. For patients with cancer, listening to music may provide a vital coping mechanism to help with both the physical and emotional side effects of treatment.

Felicity Harper, Ph.D., co-program leader of the Population Studies and Disparities Research Program and associate professor of Oncology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute, said research has found that caregivers accompanying patients are often times just as distressed as their patients. Her study, “Using Music as a Tool for Distress Reduction During Cancer Treatment,” builds on a project by Ally Heath, a long-time volunteer at Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“Ally had been giving iPods to patients in the infusion suite and came to us with the idea that maybe music would help both patients and their caregivers,” said Dr. Harper, principal investigator of the study.

In the study, patients and caregivers who consent to participate are given an iPod that is pre-loaded with music from a variety of genres and decades, including Motown, the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, classical and country. Patients are asked about their pain, mood and distress before and after a 60-minute listening period. The team compares pre-listening to post-listening levels to determine the effect of listening to music.

With better understanding of how music might benefit patients and caregivers, clinical guidelines can be developed for the use of music in infusion clinics, which has a significant impact on clinical care practices and improvement in patient and caregiver outcomes.

The interest from Karmanos Cancer Institute patients and caregivers has exceeded expectations, which has allowed Karmanos to quickly accrue many participants and help us get closer to determining the benefit of a music intervention.