A pilot study into the therapeutic effects of music therapy at a cancer help center

Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Jan;7(1):48-56.


Context: Since the mid-1980s, music therapy has been a regular feature of the residential program at the internationally renowned Bristol Cancer Help Centre, United Kingdom. Music therapy complements other therapeutic interventions available to residents at the center.

Objective: To compare the therapeutic effects of listening to music in a relaxed state with the active involvement of music improvisation (the playing of tuned and untuned percussion instruments) in a music therapy group setting and to investigate the potential influence of music therapy on positive emotions and the immune system of cancer patients.

Design: A quantitative pre-posttest, psychological/physiological measures, and qualitative focus group design.

Setting: A cancer help center that offers a fully integrated range of complementary therapies, psychological support, spiritual healing, and nutritional and self-help techniques addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of cancer patients and their supporters.

Participants: Twenty-nine cancer patients, aged 21 to 68 years.

Intervention: Group music therapy interventions of listening to recorded/live music in a relaxed state and improvisation.

Main outcome measures: Increased well-being and relaxation and less tension during the listening experience. Increased well-being and energy and less tension during improvisation. Increased levels of salivary immunoglobulin A and decreased levels of cortisol in both experiences.

Results: Psychological data showed increased well-being and relaxation as well as altered energy levels in both interventions. Physiological data showed increased salivary immunoglobulin A in the listening experience and a decrease in cortisol levels in both interventions over a 2-day period. Preliminary evidence of a link between positive emotions and the immune system of cancer patients was found.

Conclusions: These findings, which link listening to music in a relaxed state and improvisation to alterations in psychological and physiological parameters, may provide a better understanding of the effectiveness of music therapy for cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Immunoglobulins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music Therapy*
  • Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pilot Projects
  • Residential Facilities


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Hydrocortisone