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The impact of music therapy versus music medicine on psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients: a mixed methods study



The purpose of this study was to compare the impact of music therapy (MT) versus music medicine (MM) interventions on psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients and to enhance understanding of patients’ experiences of these two types of music interventions.


This study employed a mixed methods intervention design in which qualitative data were embedded within a randomized cross-over trial. Thirty-one adult cancer patients participated in two sessions that involved interactive music making with a music therapist (MT) and two sessions in which they listened to pre-recorded music without the presence of a therapist (MM). Before and after each session, participants reported on their mood, anxiety, relaxation, and pain by means of visual analogue and numeric rating scales. Thirty participants completed an exit interview.


The quantitative data suggest that both interventions were equally effective in enhancing target outcomes. However, 77.4 % of participants expressed a preference for MT sessions. The qualitative data indicate that music improves symptom management, embodies hope for survival, and helps connect to a pre-illness self, but may also access memories of loss and trauma. MT sessions helped participants tap into inner resources such as playfulness and creativity. Interactive music making also allowed for emotional expression. Some participants preferred the familiarity and predictability of listening to pre-recorded music.


The findings of this study advocate for the use of music in cancer care. Treatment benefits may depend on patient characteristics such as outlook on life and readiness to explore emotions related to the cancer experience.

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Research funding for this project was provided by the Drexel College of Medicine Cancer Program. We would like to thank Dr. John W. Creswell for his feedback on this manuscript and Dr. Michael D. Fetters for his input regarding the joint displays of quantitative and qualitative data.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest. The authors have full control of all primary data and agree to allow the journal to review their data if requested.

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Correspondence to Joke Bradt.

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Bradt, J., Potvin, N., Kesslick, A. et al. The impact of music therapy versus music medicine on psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients: a mixed methods study. Support Care Cancer 23, 1261–1271 (2015).

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  • Music therapy
  • Cancer
  • Symptom management
  • Mixed methods research