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Creative Arts May Help Cancer Patients Cope

Review shows participation in dance, music, art or writing can soothe anxiety, depression and pain

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer patients who participate in the creative arts -- such as music therapy, dance, art therapy and writing -- may be helping to reduce the anxiety, depression and pain that can be associated with their diagnosis, according to a new report.

Taking part in these creative arts "is an opportunity for these patients to complement the healing process above and beyond the physical," said Timothy Puetz, presidential management fellow at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Office of the Director.

With his colleagues, Puetz reviewed 27 published studies that included more than 1,500 patients. The review was published online May 13 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers looked at the effects of the creative arts on common problems linked with cancer, including anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and quality of life, and found that the arts did indeed have an effect on all issues except fatigue.

"These were moderate effects," Puetz said, but they were substantial enough for patients to notice them.

Research on the effects of creative arts on cancer-related health problems has gotten much less attention than other therapies such as vitamin and other supplements and mind-body therapies, Puetz said.

There is not enough research, Puetz said, to recommend one form of art over another.

In the studies, patients ranged in age from 48 to 56, on average. They had been diagnosed with cancers of the breast, blood, lung and prostate, among other organs. They had gotten a variety of treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy or combinations thereof.

The studies compared patients who engaged in the arts with patients who received no treatment, those on waiting lists, those who received usual care or those who received a placebo. During follow-up, the effects of the arts diminished, the researchers found.

One possible take-home point of the study seems to be that the arts are "going to help you in the short term but not the long term," said Matthew Loscalzo, administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Duarte, Calif.

Loscalzo reviewed the study findings and speculated as to why the arts may help, at least during the short term.

It might be that the relationships that form during the creative arts participation help the patients focus on something else, he said. Or the music, art or writing themselves could be a simple distraction that moves the mind away from anxiety, depression and pain. "I think it is both," Loscalzo said.

One limitation of the study, Loscalzo said, is that the groups participating in the arts were compared to a waiting list, usual care or no treatment. It could have been valuable, he said, to compare the arts to other interventions, such as reading a book or meditating.

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