Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 21, Issue 9, pp 2609–2624 | Cite as

Music-based interventions in palliative cancer care: a review of quantitative studies and neurobiological literature

  • Patrick ArchieEmail author
  • Eduardo Bruera
  • Lorenzo Cohen
Review Article



This study aimed to review quantitative literature pertaining to studies of music-based interventions in palliative cancer care and to review the neurobiological literature that may bare relevance to the findings from these studies.


A narrative review was performed, with particular emphasis on RCTs, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews. The Cochrane Library, Ovid, PubMed, CINAHL Plus, PsycINFO, and ProQuest were searched for the subject headings music, music therapy, cancer, oncology, palliative care, pain, anxiety, depression, mood, quality of life, prevalence, neuroscience, functional imaging, endogenous opioids, GABA, 5HT, dopamine, and permutations of these same search terms. Data for the review were comprised of articles published between 1970 and 2012. References of all the cited articles were also reviewed.


Available evidence suggests that music-based interventions may have a positive impact on pain, anxiety, mood disturbance, and quality of life in cancer patients. Advances in neurobiology may provide insight into the potential mechanisms by which music impacts these outcomes.


More research is needed to determine what subpopulation of cancer patients is most likely to respond to music-based interventions, what interventions are most effective for individual outcomes, and what measurement parameters best gauge their effectiveness.


Music Cancer Oncology Palliative Neurobiology 



Thanks to David Aten of MDACC Medical Graphics & Photography for illustrating all figures and to Mei Dong and Biquan Luo for the help with translation.

Conflict of Interest

I have no financial relationships to disclose. I have full control over the content of this article. I submit the entirety of this manuscript for review by Supportive Care in Cancer.


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© The Author(s) 2013

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Celilo Cancer CenterMid-Columbia Medical CenterThe DallesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine, Division of Cancer MedicineThe University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Integrative Medicine Program, Department of General Oncology, Division of Cancer MedicineThe University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA

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