Evidence Summary

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In people with cancer, music therapy reduces anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue

Tsai HF, Chen YR, Chung MH, et al. Effectiveness of Music Intervention in Ameliorating Cancer Patients` Anxiety, Depression, Pain, and Fatigue: A Meta-analysis. Cancer Nurs. 2014 Mar 21. [Epub ahead of print]

Review question

In people with cancer, does music therapy reduce anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue (tiredness)?


People with cancer can have a number of physical and psychological symptoms. Music therapy may be used to treat some of these symptoms. It involves the use of music to promote healing and improve quality of life. It can include activities such as listening to music, singing, making music, and writing songs.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review, searching for published studies up to December 2012. They found 19 randomized controlled trials and 2 non-randomized trials of 1608 people (average age from 8 to 57 years).

People in the trials had various types of cancer that ranged in severity. Most were in hospital.

In most trials, music therapy involved listening, was provided to individuals (rather than groups), and allowed people to pick the music.

Music therapy was compared with usual care.

What the researchers found

The quality of evidence was rated as good in all trials (rated at least 6 out of 10).

Compared with usual care, music therapy:

  • reduced anxiety, depression, and pain by a medium amount; and
  • reduced fatigue by a small amount

Music therapy was more effective when patients were able to select the music.


In people with cancer, music therapy reduces anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue compared with usual care.

Music therapy vs usual care for physical and psychological symptoms in people with cancer


Number of trials

Effect of music therapy



Medium decrease with music therapy



Medium decrease with music therapy



Medium decrease with music therapy

Fatigue (tiredness)


Small decrease with music therapy



Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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