Cancer patients who participate in the creative arts - such as music therapy,
dance, art therapy and writing - may be helping to reduce the anxiety,
depression and pain that can be associated with their diagnosis, according to a
Taking part in these creative arts "is an opportunity for these patients to
complement the healing process above and beyond the physical," said Timothy
Puetz, presidential management fellow at the US National Institutes of Health's
Office of the Director.
With his colleagues, Puetz reviewed 27 published studies that included more
than 1 500 patients.
How the study was done
The researchers looked at the effects of the creative arts on common problems
linked with cancer, including anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and quality of
life, and found that the arts did indeed have an effect on all issues except
"These were moderate effects," Puetz said, but they were substantial enough
for patients to notice them.
Research on the effects of creative arts on cancer-related health problems
has gotten much less attention than other therapies such as vitamin and other
supplements and mind-body therapies, Puetz said.
There is not enough research, Puetz said, to recommend one form of art over
In the studies, patients ranged in age from 48 to 56, on average. They had
been diagnosed with cancers of the breast, blood, lung and prostate, among other
organs. They had gotten a variety of treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy,
radiation, hormone therapy or combinations thereof.
The studies compared patients who engaged in the arts with patients who
received no treatment, those on waiting lists, those who received usual care or
those who received a placebo. During follow-up, the effects of the arts
diminished, the researchers found.
One possible take-home point of the study seems to be that the arts are
"going to help you in the short term but not the long term," said Matthew
Loscalzo, administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and
Family Resource Center at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, in
Loscalzo reviewed the study findings and speculated as to why the arts may
help, at least during the short term.
It might be that the relationships that form during the creative arts
participation help the patients focus on something else, he said. Or the music,
art or writing themselves could be a simple distraction that moves the mind away
from anxiety, depression and pain. "I think it is both," Loscalzo said.
One limitation of the study, Loscalzo said, is that the groups participating
in the arts were compared to a waiting list, usual care or no treatment. It
could have been valuable, he said, to compare the arts to other interventions,
such as reading a book or meditating.
Still, Loscalzo said, it's a step forward that a journal as prestigious as
JAMA published the findings.
Cancer patients seeking to find creative arts classes can ask their doctor or
the resource center at their cancer center. They are still not commonplace,
Loscalzo said. "[At City of Hope], we screen and ask patients what would be
helpful," he said. They offer yoga, cooking classes, music, art and other
If a patient's doctor or cancer center does not know of any such
opportunities, Puetz suggested seeking out an art, music or dance class in the
community. Senior centers and community colleges might offer the classes. Even
if the classes are not specifically designed for patients with cancer, "there
are no negative consequences," Puetz said.
To learn more about the emotional effects of cancer, visit the American
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