Young Cancer Patients Coped Better With Creativity

Music therapy helped young cancer patients positively cope with their condition and treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cancer treatments can often be emotionally exhausting. Creativity may help young patients cope by expressing thoughts and emotions about their condition.

A recent study found that teenagers and young adults undergoing cancer treatment were better able to cope with and bounce back from their condition after participating in a music therapy intervention.

The researchers suggested that being creative provided young cancer patients with the mental and social support that is needed to positively cope with high-risk, high-intensity cancer treatments.

"Discuss positive coping methods with your doctor."

The lead author of this study was Joan E. Haase, PhD, RN, FAAN, from the Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The study included 113 adolescents and young adults (AYAs) from eight Children's Oncology Group sites undergoing a myeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) for cancer.

All participants were between the ages of 11 and 24 years old, and the average age was 17 years old.

Forty-three percent of the participants were female and 58 percent were white.

Within 30 days of being admitted to the HSCT unit, the participants were randomly put into two different groups: 1) the therapeutic music video (TMV) group or 2) the control group. Each group had six sessions within three weeks.

The TMV group sessions used a therapeutic music process that included writing song lyrics and producing videos to help the participants reflect on their experiences and identify what is important to them — such as their spirituality, family and relationships with peers and healthcare providers.

The control group listened to and discussed pre-selected audiobooks.

The researchers identified the following as protective psychological and social factors:

  • spiritual perspective
  • social integration
  • family environment
  • hope-derived meaning
  • courageous coping (positive coping)

Two psychological and social risk factors were identified as well: illness-related distress and defensive coping.

The researchers assessed how well the music method affected the participants' self-transcendence (ability to view oneself beyond bodily limitations) and resilience. These factors were assessed at baseline and then at two follow-up evaluations after session six and again 100 days after the transplant surgery.

At the first follow-up after the six sessions, the TMV group reported significantly better courageous coping than the control group.

At the second follow-up after 100 days, the TMV group reported significantly better social integration and family environment.

There were moderate increases in self-transcendence and spiritual perspective, but the changes were not statistically significant. The findings also revealed that there was no change in either group's use of defensive coping strategies.

Previous studies have associated defensive coping strategies with risk-taking behaviors and less positive adjustment.

Overall, the researchers discovered that the lyrical and video content indicated that the participants in the TMV group started to view their friends (social integration), family (family environment) and faith/spirituality (spiritual perspective) as important sources of support.

"These protective factors influence[d] the ways adolescents and young adults cope, gain hope, and find meaning in the midst of their cancer journey," Dr. Haase said in a press statement.

"The cancer diagnosis and treatment is mentally a huge stressor on patients," said Dr. Subhakar "Sub" Mutyala, Associate Director of the Baylor Scott & White Cancer Institute and Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine in Temple, Texas.

"This study shows the addition of music therapy seems to improve the adjustment and decrease the mental stress. This is important as sometimes the mental state of the patient can get overlooked during cancer treatment," Dr. Mutyala told dailyRx News.

Dr. Haase and team suggested that future studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of music interventions beyond 100 days of treatment.

These authors mentioned a few limitations of their study.

First, the effects of the different methods were not as strong as predicted because not all the participants completed the programs in the three-week time period. Second, the cost of care and treatment was not considered in analysis.

This study was published on January 27 in Cancer.

The National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Cancer Institute and the Children's Oncology Group provided funding.

Review Date: 
January 27, 2014
Last Updated:
February 19, 2014