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Support Care Cancer. 2019 Mar 1. doi: 10.1007/s00520-019-04713-4. [Epub ahead of print]

The effects of inpatient music therapy on self-reported symptoms at an academic cancer center: a preliminary report.

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Integrative Medicine Center, Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd Unit 1414, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.
Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.
Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX, USA.
Department of Biostatistics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.



Music therapy has shown benefits for reducing distress in individuals with cancer. We explore the effects of music therapy on self-reported symptoms of patients receiving inpatient care at a comprehensive cancer center.


Music therapy was available as part of an inpatient integrative oncology consultation service; we examined interventions and symptoms for consecutive patients treated by a board-certified music therapist from September 2016 to May 2017. Patients completed the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS, 10 symptoms, scale 0-10, 10 most severe) before and after the intervention. Data was summarized by descriptive statistics. Changes in ESAS symptom and subscale scores (physical distress (PHS), psychological distress (PSS), and global distress (GDS)) were evaluated by Wilcoxon signed rank test.


Data were evaluable for 96 of 100 consecutive initial, unique patient encounters; 55% were women, average age 50, and majority with hematologic malignancies (47%). Reasons for music therapy referral included anxiety/stress (67%), adjustment disorder/coping (28%), and mood elevation/depression (17%). The highest (worst) symptoms at baseline were sleep disturbance (5.7) and well-being (5.5). We observed statistically and clinically significant improvement (means) for anxiety (- 2.3 ± 1.5), drowsiness (- 2.1 ± 2.2), depression (- 2.1 ± 1.9), nausea (- 2.0 ± 2.4), fatigue (- 1.9 ± 1.5), pain (- 1.8 ± 1.4), shortness of breath (- 1.4 ± 2.2), appetite (- 1.1 ± 1.7), and for all ESAS subscales (all ps < 0.02). The highest clinical response rates were observed for anxiety (92%), depression (91%), and pain (89%).


A single, in-person, tailored music therapy intervention as part of an integrative oncology inpatient consultation service contributed to the significant improvement in global, physical, and psychosocial distress. A randomized controlled trial is justified.


Complementary health approach; Integrative medicine; Integrative oncology; Music therapy; Patient-reported outcomes


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