How Cancer Survivors Use Music or Play Musical Instruments to Better their Emotional Health

How Cancer Survivors Use Music or Play Musical Instruments to Better their Emotional Health


For many cancer patients, re-adjusting to life after treatment may prove to be just as challenging as the disease itself.

While patients may be cured of many of the physical effects of the disease, their emotional and mental wellbeing may continue to endure hardships as they try to pick up their lives where they left off.

The Cancer Council Victoria suggests survivors may be prone to experiencing:

  • Fear of cancer recurrence
  • Cancer-related fatigue and other treatment side-effects
  • Guilt of being a survivor
  • Pressure to always be positive or to feel happy
  • A lack of support compared to when they had cancer
  • Family and friends lacking a complete understanding of their ordeal
  • A feeling of loss of identity

How is it used?

Music is commonly known for being a mood-booster, and this is no exception when it comes to helping cancer survivors feel better about themselves.

According to the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology (JSIO), music has the ability to improve “symptoms of fear, anxiety, depression, frustration, and loneliness”, and is further able to enhance mood and “overall feelings of comfort and sense of control”.

There are many ways for cancer survivors to use music as a means of coping with post-cancer stress, which depend on their own interests and abilities. They should also choose whether they would like to sign up for sessions with a registered music therapist, or engage with music in a more informal setting, like at home.

Music therapy sessions are commonly used for cancer patients but can also be a tool for survivors to cope with the lasting stress of cancer.

The JSIO lists techniques that may be used during sessions, which include:

  • Lyric improvisation and song writing – Encourages self-expression
  • Instrument improvisation – Allows a sense of control and self-expression
  • Listening to music, recorded or live – A distraction technique to relieve pain and discomfort
  • Meditation with music – Increases relaxation and comfort
  • Chanting and repetition of vocal intonations – Reduces fatigue and increases relaxation

Alternatively, cancer survivors may like to use these techniques on their own. However, they might also decide to start learning a new instrument as a hobby, which would enable them to have a new focus and further allow self-expression.

Beyond Blue describes the advantages of learning to play an instrument, claiming that it allows for mindfulness as it requires full focus and attention to the task at hand. The result of this is that it reduces stress and anxiety, allowing the person to think more clearly.  

Another option could be allowing relaxing music to play in the background of everyday tasks, with the observation that soothing background music can further lower anxiety levels and is even able to decrease blood pressure.

In addition to this, many people find comfort in listening to their favourite music – whether this be through the meaning of lyrics that reflect their own journey, or songs that spark happy memories from their childhood.

Music can be a great way for cancer survivors to reduce their emotional hardships, and it should also be fun, meaning they shouldn’t be discouraged if they find they’re unable to get the hang of a new instrument straight away.

Gemma Crotty is a volunteer blog writer for Solaris Cancer Centre from her home in Melbourne. Currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Communication at La Trobe University, she is considering a career in communications or journalism. Gemma has a strong humanities research background from her Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Sydney. She has a keen passion for writing and likes to find new ways to hone her skills and connect to others through her words.