Music therapy uses live or recorded music to provide distraction from upsetting feelings and pain and also to promote relaxation.
A small study has found that music therapy eased anxiety in women having breast biopsies as outpatients. As far as the researchers know, this is the first randomized study to look at using music therapy in this way.
The research was published online on Aug. 17, 2015 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Effects of Music Therapy on Anesthesia Requirements and Anxiety in Women Undergoing Ambulatory Breast Surgery for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”
Between 2012 and 2014, 207 women scheduled to undergo breast biopsy were randomly split into three groups:
- one group listened to a song of their choice, performed live by a music therapist, accompanied by guitar or keyboards, for 5 minutes before going into the operating room; during surgery, this group listened through headphones to prerecorded harp music carefully chosen by the music therapist for its smooth melodies and stable rhythms
- the second group listened to a prerecorded song of their choice through headphones while the music therapist stood outside the room for 5 minutes before going into the operating room; during surgery, this group also listened through headphones to prerecorded harp music carefully chosen by the music therapist for its smooth melodies and stable rhythms
- the third group didn’t listen to music and received the usual preoperative care for 5 minutes; during surgery, this group wore noise-cancelling headphones to cancel any effects of music played by the surgeon
Before any music listening or preoperative care, a registered nurse gave each woman an anxiety test to determine the women’s baseline anxiety levels. After the women listened to music or had preoperative care, the nurse again gave each woman the anxiety test.
The researchers found that anxiety levels dropped dramatically in the women who listened to either live or recorded music before biopsy.
"We discovered that anxiety levels dropped significantly from pre-test to post-test in patients who heard one preferred song of either live or recorded music before surgery," said Jaclyn Bradley Palmer, music therapist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio and lead author of the study. "In this trial, both live and recorded preoperative music therapy interventions reduced anxiety significantly more than usual preoperative management by 28 and 27 points, representing percent reductions of 43% and 41%, respectively.
“What we can conclude from our findings is that music therapy may effectively serve as a complementary modality during cancer surgery treatment,” she continued. “A brief music therapy session has the ability to manage the anxiety that surrounds breast cancer surgery in a way that is effective, safe, time-efficient, and enjoyable.”
Both live or recorded music reduced the women’s anxiety by about the same amount.
According to the researchers, studies have shown that music can affect the emotional center of the brain that releases the body’s natural opiates, including endorphins and serotonin. This is probably why the women felt much less anxious after listening to music before having a breast biopsy. Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings. Serotonin promotes feelings of well-being and happiness.
While music therapy isn’t available at all surgical centers, more and more clinics are starting to offer this type of complementary medicine technique.
If you’re scheduled to undergo a breast biopsy, you might want to ask if music therapy is available where your surgery will be done. If it is, you can ask how you can arrange to listen to music before the biopsy. If music therapy isn’t available, you may want to try another relaxation technique, such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation, before surgery.
For more information on holistic techniques that can ease anxiety and promote calmness, visit the Breastcancer.org Complementary & Holistic Medicine section.