Exploring Music's Complexities

Music as a Complementary Therapy in Cancer

Music as a Complementary Therapy in Cancer

Kristin S. Padilla, RN, BSN, RNC

The C word.  Cancer.  It’s a word that none of us want to hear, especially if it involves a diagnosis of one’s self or loved ones.  It can be a very long battle and the treatment options (especially chemotherapy regimens) can be brutal.  During the battle with cancer, most patients seek ways to cope with the emotional and physical hardships they must deal with.  In fact, according to a study in the journal Oncologist, approximately 80 percent of cancer patients use complementary and alternative therapies (CAM).  These include music therapy, acupuncture, hypnosis and supplements, to name a few.  Prayer and religion are often included as CAM therapies.

The goal for most patients that use CAM therapies is not to cure their cancer but rather help to alleviate the anxiety, stress, pain and side effects of treatment.  The use of CAM therapies, including music therapy, has gained acceptance with the medical community as an effective tool in assisting patients deal with cancer and treatments.  If fact, the American Cancer Society has a fantastic reference for CAM therapies called the Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies.  Hundreds of alternative therapies, to include music therapy, are listed and the evidence (or lack of it) as well as possible side effects are discussed.  Most therapies listed are safe but the reference also lists and discusses some therapies that are used by some patients but can be dangerous.

Music therapy is considered a safe therapy by the American Cancer Society and studies have shown that music therapy can help to alleviate chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting as well pain and anxiety.  Music therapy seems to be especially valuable in children with cancer because it “facilitates their adaptation to the new reality, increases their self-esteem and control of the situation, makes communication easier and improves their immune response to the disease thanks to the emotional support music provides.”  Many hospitals, as well as oncology centers, have music therapy programs in place for patients with cancer.  It is becoming much more commonplace to have musicians such as harpists playing relaxing melodies for patients in oncology centers while they receive their chemotherapy.

I would like to leave you with a letter that exemplifies how music can have a very strong impact on the emotional and physical wellbeing of a cancer patient.  The writer of this letter was a wonderful woman who fought a long and hard battle with breast cancer.  She found solace in Dr. Daniel Kobialka’s music.

“Dealing with stage IV Breast Cancer is continuously on my mind.  Cherishing every new day, thanking the Good Lord for all our blessings, deeply praying and remaining positive are all at the top of my daily list.  Evening comes and I, musically challenged, look forward to listening to Daniel Kobialka’s healing music.  It amazes me that each CD has a different sound.  The sounds of quiet music slowly becoming louder has given me visuals and sounds of fluttering angel’s wings, butterflies or the approaching of a slow train.  The calming effect and the joy of waiting for Daniel’s violin to join in has definitely brought peace to my body which in turn has hopefully promoted healing.  The music is a great background for me to meditate and visualize the cancer leaving my body.  I have a favorite which I look forward to listening to every night.  It’s ‘Fragrances of a Dream’ which melts my fears and calms my mind.  Thank you Daniel for coming into my life when I am reaching out in every direction to heal my body. God Bless you! ” –Mini Frette

Fragrances of a Dream

Album available at our website http://www.wonderofsound.com.

Remember, views are for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat or diagnose.  If you have questions about the information provided, please see your healthcare provider.


Cassileth B.  Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer.  Oncologist; 2004; 9:80-89

Hart J.  Music therapy for children and adults with cancer.  Alternative and Complementary Therapies; 2009; 15(5): 221-225.

Jorda EG. Music therapy in oncology. Clin Transl Oncol 2008; 10: 774–776.

Music therapy’s positive effects on young cancer patients’ coping skills, social integration.  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127093134.htm   Retrieved May 31, 2015.

Music Therapy.   American Cancer Society Website.  http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/MindBodyandSpirit/music-therapy. Retrieved May 31, 2015.

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