Effects of creative arts therapies on psychological symptoms and quality of life in patients with cancer

JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jun 10;173(11):960-9. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.836.


Importance: Creative arts therapies (CATs) can reduce anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue and increase quality of life (QOL) in patients with cancer. However, no systematic review of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) examining the effects of CAT on psychological symptoms among cancer patients has been conducted.

Objectives: To estimate the effect of CAT on psychological symptoms and QOL in cancer patients during treatment and follow-up and to determine whether the effect varied according to patient, intervention, and design characteristics.

Evidence review: We searched ERIC, Google Scholar, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, PubMed, and Web of Science from database inception to January 2012. Studies included RCTs in which cancer patients were randomized to a CAT or control condition and anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and/or QOL were measured pre- and post-intervention. Twenty-seven studies involving 1576 patients were included. We extracted data on effect sizes, moderators, and study quality. Hedges d effect sizes were computed, and random-effects models were used to estimate sampling error and population variance.

Findings: During treatment, CAT significantly reduced anxiety (Δ = 0.28 [95% CI, 0.11-0.44]), depression (Δ = 0.23 [0.05-0.40]), and pain (Δ = 0.54 [0.33-0.75]) and increased QOL (Δ = 0.50 [0.25-0.74]). Pain was significantly reduced during follow-up (Δ = 0.59 [95% CI, 0.42-0.77]). Anxiety reductions were strongest for studies in which (1) a non-CAT therapist administered the intervention compared with studies that used a creative arts therapist and (2) a waiting-list or usual-care comparison was used. Pain reductions were largest during inpatient treatment and for homogeneous cancer groups in outpatient settings; significantly smaller reductions occurred in heterogeneous groups in outpatient settings.

Conclusions and relevance: Exposure to CAT can improve anxiety, depression, and pain symptoms and QOL among cancer patients, but this effect is reduced during follow-up.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / prevention & control
  • Art Therapy*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Quality of Life*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic